Editor’s note: Howard Chou is a programmer at market research firm iModerate, Denver.

Technology is a key ingredient for finding the most innovative way to conduct research. A craftsman can only go as far as the tools that he or she has available, right? That said, there is no shortage of tools to choose from. Selecting which one is right for you can be challenging and decisions don’t always boil down to considering cost and cool features. There are many factors to weigh, from respondent experience to data output and everything in between. I’ve highlighted a few major areas that are crucial to examine when selecting the software tool that is right for your current needs and future objectives.


What you can accomplish with a tool varies greatly, and there are a few factors to consider when choosing one that meets your needs:

  • Dynamic capabilities: If you plan on having dynamic questions, such as mimicking a shopping-cart experience or determining areas of interest via heat map, then you’ll need a robust system capable of flexible customizations. On the flipside, if most of your research consists of satisfaction surveys on recent hotel stays, you won’t need an overly complicated tool.
  • Media streaming: Do you need to include videos and other media in your studies? If so, does the system allow you to upload and play content securely or do you need to implement a media host service?
  •  Bandwidth: Approximately how many respondents do you expect to have coming through your system at any given time? If you need to test five video ads with 3,000 respondents in only a week of field time, you must consider the bandwidth capabilities and how this affects pricing.
  • Integration with outside software: Do you have the capability to integrate with other software or incorporate computer language for custom research studies?  Does your research need that capability and, if so, to what extent?

User expertise

Consider the technical expertise of the individual who will be using the software: how does their skill set align with the complexity of the tools that you’re considering? While a majority of software companies are leaning more toward user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) designs, many require advanced knowledge in survey logic and functions:

  • Human resources: Will you need to hire a programmer or add more depth in that department to efficiently utilize this system? Or can you train your current staff to use it effectively?
  • Comfort with code:  Some survey tools can be used fairly easily with their GUIs (see above) while advanced survey tools will require a programmer to create custom codes or scripts to implement.
  • Common language: Consider the computer language that the system uses. Is the language frequently used (like JavaScript) which will make support and resources easier to find or does it use a less common language (like Perl)?
  • Technical support: Most systems have a ticketed e-mail support but the timing of the responses can vary from a couple of hours to 48 hours. If you do time-sensitive research, you most likely need a fast response time in case something fails during setup.

Data output

It’s essential to work backwards when considering a tool. Perhaps the most important questions that you’ll ask yourself are: What do you need from the output? What kind of data do you need to deliver or present? There are many tools that offer real-time data tracking and topline reporting and you need to weigh which one fits your research needs the best:

  • Recording capabilities: Do you need to track the order of events in a survey, such as the order of concepts shown in a randomized presentation of concepts? Or do you need to know what menu item was selected first in an ordering simulation?
  • Reporting options: Some survey tools offer an abundance of robust reporting capabilities including charts and graphs that are easy to deliver and present. Alternately, there are more cost-efficient solutions in which you can manually build the necessary charts and graphs.
  • Dashboard: Does this software offer a dashboard or reporting link for clients to access the data fairly easily? How customizable are these dashboards/links?
  • Extra software: Will you need extra software (such as SPSS) to deliver the data set? Some clients will require an edited file for their deliverable.

Future goals

How advanced do you see your needs becoming when you consider long-term goals? You may want to ask yourself the following questions to license a tool that not only fits with your current needs but also aligns with your future goals:

  • Do you foresee your programmers outgrowing the capabilities of the software? If they’re constantly creating custom code to meet the demand of new but commonly requested functionalities, the answer might be yes.
  • Do your goals require you to have cutting-edge technology, or are more rudimentary tools fitting with your needs? You may consider the software company’s long-term plans and how it intends to improve its capabilities. Many survey tools have constant upgrades and new releases to stay up-to-date with new technology trends.
  • Will this survey tool keep up with the ever-changing mobile and tablet technology? Is mobile research important to your business?
  • Will your number of completed interviews be within your price point? Some companies have minimum contracts so make sure these are thought out ahead of time.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to choosing a software tool for research. You will achieve the best results for your research by keeping in mind the global picture beyond just the technical aspects. Feel free to comment below with any questions!