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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Selecting Survey Demographics

Demographics are those attributes or variables that describe the population of interest for your survey. Common demographic variables include age, income range, marital status, education level, ethnic group and gender.  The data collected in a survey is only valuable if you know who is answering your questions, so it’s vital to choose demographic criteria wisely when setting up a survey project.

To select demographics for your next survey, use these three considerations:

  1. What is your objective? The step of selecting demographics comes after setting project objectives. Based on those objectives, the type of population you need should be fairly easy to infer. If you’re doing research related to a bicycle accessory product, you’ll probably want people of a certain age range, and probably of a certain minimum income level so they can afford to spend on things like bicycle accessories.  If your product is designed to appeal more to women or to men, then you might choose to target your research toward one gender. Clear objectives will help define demographics.

  1. What is feasible? When selecting demographics for your survey, avoid the temptation of selecting too many. Why is this important?

·               The more demographic variables you require, the higher the cost. This is true with any sample source.
·               A large number of demographic variables can limit your pool of respondents drastically, reducing the feasibility of your project and increasing the study’s cost and timeline.  Just for context, a typical survey project has two to four demographic requirements..
·               An overly narrow focus becomes artificial. Unless you have a very large marketing budget, you likely can’t market only to men who make $50,000 to $150,000 a year, live in suburban areas, have at least two years of college, are married, and are of a specific ethnic group. With too many demographic selections, you quickly reach the point where your survey sample bears no relation to marketing reality.

  1. What does your internal audience need? You need to know the requirements of the people who will use your survey results—the internal clients. Here’s a common scenario:  You’re sharing the results of a survey project with some colleagues and hear disappointed utterances such as, “Oh, you didn’t include higher income ranges?” and “Oh, I see you included people who are retired…” The fact that your internal clients have questions about the demographics used to select participants will make them less likely to use the research results. You need to know early on about any specific demographic requirements so you can consider them in your planning process.

Conclusions: Having clear objectives, limiting criteria for feasibility (and reality), and identifying internal client needs are all important aspects of designing a good survey project. If you take these three items into consideration when selecting demographics, you’ll be able to prioritize the right demographic variables for your next AYTM survey.


  1. Selecting Survey Demographics Fantastic post and wonderful blog, I really like this type of interesting articles keep it up.
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