Open-ended survey questions

You included an open-ended question in your survey and now you have hundreds of responses to review. Don’t fall into the trap of letting a few random comments represent the spectrum of employee feedback. 

Instead, use a disciplined process to objectively categorize, sort and analyze responses. Here’s how:

1. Flag each response with a code: a word or simple phrase that summarizes the idea. For example, if a comment is about receiving too many emails, use the code "email overload" to categorize that response and responses that communicate a similar idea.

A few tips:

  • A response can be assigned more than one code. If an employee comments that she receives too many emails but also adds they should be shorter, you can use two codes: “email overload” and “shorter emails.”
  • Instead of starting with a pre-determined list of codes, let the responses tell you what’s important—add to your list of codes as you go.
  • Be consistent. For example, if you use the code "email overload" once, keep using it. Don’t mix it up by adding "fewer emails" to your list of codes.
  • There are many ways to code responses, but we usually use one of two: a) print the responses and write in the margins, b) use qualitative analysis software (our fav is  HyperRESEARCH™)

2. Tally the number of times each code appears to determine key themes. This is the best way to determine the top three or five, rather than focusing on one or two powerful comments.

3. Now pick a few quotes to represent each of your key themes. They’ll bring your findings to life in the report. For example, if your theme is “Employees find communication too complex,” a supporting quote form an employee might be “Messages are confusing and too long to read.”

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