Don’t Take That Tone With Me, Young Man – Writing Engaging Surveys

February 17th, 2017 by John Richelsen

I’m sure that your mom has uttered that phrase at some point in your life – usually coupled with your full name so you knew you were in big trouble then. Some things in life must be approached with a certain tone and temperament. Certainly when it comes to customer service or responding to a problem, word choice and tone really do make a difference. But what about creating a survey? Do you have to be stiff and formal or should you let your freak flag fly?


In the world of DIY survey design, formal – even overly formal – design runs rampant. “We are addressing stats and stimuli here! Clearly we must be precise!” There are times when I see these homegrown questionnaires, I feel like I’m reading a legal document instead of taking a survey. The scale must be exact. Wording is sterile. In a word, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.


Coming from a long background in advertising, we learned that engaging approaches brought us better results. We know that response rates ain’t what they used to be so it gets even harder to fill a quota, so why hamstring yourself further by having your survey sound like you were wearing a lab coat when you wrote it? Conversational tone and amusing transitions can go a long way in keeping your subjects attention. Depending on the subject and client, don’t be afraid to step outside the lines a little, like this survey we recently hosted for the Rochester chapter of the American Marketing Association.

I’m not saying as market researchers, we need to go full-on Buzzfeed surveys. But have a little fun in your tone. Your mom would approve.