How to Build the Ultimately Actionable Research Study

By Graeme Newell 

-Don’t start a research project by asking “What do I want to know?” Start by asking, “What am I hoping to change?”
-Great research starts with a fearless inventory of what you can’t or won’t change.
-For each survey question ask, “What specific action will this answer empower me to take?”

Most research studies can be broken down into two camps. There are tracking studies that tell you how you’re doing, then there are action studies that tell you where you should go. I’ve always been a fan of the latter. Far too many research studies simply make the managers feel better, but have little information that can guide real change.

Zero-Base Your Questionnaire
Every question eats up valuable time and costs a lot of money. By zero-basing a survey, you eliminate the temptation to rehash old questions. Plus, you force the research company to come up with an un-recycled list of questions, specific to your individual needs.


Don’t let the research company start the research process and thus set the agenda. You should lead the charge and clearly set an expectation for simplicity and actionability. Start by sending the research company a complete list of “here is what this survey needs to reveal.” Be actively involved in creating all the questions.

Don’t Look Back, Look Forward
It sounds rudimentary, but far too many survey’s begin with the fuzzy goal of finding out, “How are we doing?” Finding out if you’re on the right track can be valuable, but will this kind of information empower your team to step forward boldly? Research dollars are too precious to merely affirm past tactics. Great studies provide critical information for next tactics. You want to cold-bloodedly eliminate unactionable questions so your research can be the catalyst for decisive action and groundbreaking change.

Just Interesting or Truly Actionable?
Great research projects don’t start with the question, “What do I want to know?” They start with the question, “What am I hoping to change?” Then, the questions methodically provide the data necessary to facilitate that change.

If you inventory a lot of research studies, you’ll find questions that yield interesting information, but the management team cannot take any action based on the results of that question. If you are researching something you won’t or can’t change, then that goal should be eliminated from the survey.

On a recent survey, I saw the question, “Who has the most quality show?” If the results come back that it’s your show, what would you do with that information? If the results come back that it’s your competitor’s show, what specific action would you take? While it is nice to know the perception of your show, this kind of information does little to facilitate improvement. It is nice to know, but what action would the question facilitate?

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Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at