Questionnaires from surveying students – some advice on good practice

Every year final year construction and surveying students send building professionals unsolicited email requests to complete this survey or that questionnaire trying to complete their dissertations.

Along with many other surveyors, architects and construction professionals, I am happy to give up a couple of moments to assist the next generation.

But, more often than not, the standard of requests and questionnaires is terrible. Not just poor but very bad. More than 70% of the email request and surveys that I receive have basic errors which immediately make me want to ignore them.

So here is my 12 point guide for students who want me and my fellow professionals to complete their surveys and questionnaires…

1. Emails and surveys take time to prepare properly – at least 3 or 4 sober hours. You must invest this time. If you cannot invest this time in your future, don’t bother asking for my time.

2. Remember, you are emailing me and asking me to do something. That is called marketing. Before you even get as far as pressing send, do yourself a favour, Google some advice about email marketing, and then put it into action.

3. When you email me and all the others on your list, remember that this could be the first contact you ever make with your future employer. Pretty soon after you request is sent, you will be looking for a job. If you think we don’t remember rubbish emails and communication, think again! You are selling yourself just as much as you are asking for a survey reply. Your email and your survey should be treated as carefully as you would treat your CV. I once employed someone who phoned me to ask for dissertation assistance.

4. You will no doubt be emailing me and 50 or more other construction professionals. Whatever you do, don’t use “cc” on the email. I do not want to see a list of the other people you emailed or for them to see me. It’s lazy and unprofessional to do this and GDPR may apply to you. I suggest you try and use a proper email marketing provider like Mailchimp. It’s free for very small accounts – your email will look professional, personal and you will be able do some basic analytics.

5. Get your subject line right – this is crucial. Here are some real examples that were sent to me in the last six months.

Questionaire Request. Schoolboy error in this one – a spelling mistake. Doh! The very first contact and there’s a mistake in the first word of the first contact. The subject line itself is pretty poor – think about it why would I want to open this one amongst 100 other emails I received today. Why are you asking me to complete a questionnaire?


NTU STUDENT SURVEY – PLEASE READ.  Don’t shout at me, don’t use CAPS and don’t put “please read”.  I will not be told what to do and will ignore all capitals. I don’t know (and don’t care) what NTU is or are.  I don’t want to survey students…


Standrad Forms of Construction Contract, CIOB Complex Projects Contract – Research Questionaire.  This one’s not bad, but two spelling errors (come on haven’t you got spell checkers?). It’s also too long, but it did interest me enough to open it.

6. Work on the content of the email. Make sure there are no typos or spelling errors – do the fonts match throughout?  Make sure it looks neat and tidy and, importantly, is concise and to the point. Don’t tell me the survey will take 10 minutes. I haven’t got 10 minutes, but I might be able to do a “short survey”.

7. Think about what time you should email me. There’s plenty of online research, but there are some really bad times and there are some better times – try lunchtime, Friday afternoon and late afternoon.

8. Make sure the link to your survey is correct. Let’s just repeat that… you email me to complete your survey and then you make an error on the survey link. You’ve wasted my time and yours, and no, you can’t email me later with the right link because you have “identified an error”. You had my attention, you blew it. Think this is uncommon? Probably 25% make this mistake. 

9. Make sure your survey works, is logical and looks good. There’s plenty of online survey providers – try SurveyMonkey. If your survey looks thrown together then it probably is. Please don’t send me a Word document to complete and return. I haven’t got time to fiddle about.

10. Test your survey, test it again. Make sure it works, make sure it’s logical.  Get some friends – at least 5 – to hard test your survey. Get some test responses and check that the data you get is the data you want. If they tell you the questionnaire is illogical then change it. It matters. Make sure there are no spelling errors or typos. Make sure all logic (if this. then that) questions work and there are no infinite loops.

11. Make sure your questionnaire is relevant to me. A recent survey I received had at question one an extensive list of construction professionals and asked me to tick my profession. I’m a Chartered Surveyor and that one had been “forgotten”!

12. Don’t be afraid to follow up. Make sure that you thank me for my time. It’s important!