Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Questions and Questionnaires

I normally send questions to your customers in a plain-text ASCII
email, and they normally respond in kind. Things are fine. It's just
email, and it works OK.

But then I decided to send the same questions as an attachment. After
all, an attachment makes it appear that the questions are pre-planned
and generic. It gives the sense that we have experience doing the
project. By sending the questions as a "questionnaire", we're hoping
the recipient will think, "He didn't just think of those questions off
the top of his head! Those questions are the result of some work."

The attachment is a plain-text ASCII .txt file. When customers click
on the attachment, it brings up a random text editor on the
recipient's system. It's not displayed inline with the email in the
font they're accustomed to viewing. In fact, it looks downright goofy.

Suddenly, the same questions, in the same data format, look worse! The
entire effort to appear more professional has failed.


grump said...

You could write a small web app to perform the survey.

Mark Lindsey said...

I've thought a lot about the web application. The simplest would be a one-shot form-to-email gadget.

But that wouldn't work; my questionnaire is hard, and includes lots of detail. They usually have to consult with other people to answer the questions.

So they'd need a way to work on it, then save it, and come back later and work on it more.

They'd also need a way to attach things; I regularly request diagrams and spreadsheets or text-file lists.

I also want something that's easy to refer to months later. This is certainly possible with a database application, but requires ongoing care and feeding of the DBMS, the application, and all the gorp to keep it running (e.g., Apache). It's a little harder to backup and restore a database than it is ordinary files.

It's also common to want to email around the results of a questionnaire, so other people can see it. Although, this could be handled by giving users a login on the web application to login and view things.