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Best practices for creating mobile apps for data collection

By The Fulcrum Team
March 9, 2023

How you design your mobile apps for data collection has far-reaching consequences for not just how data is collected, processed, and analyzed, but also the quality of the data. The following best practices will help you plan and create mobile data collection apps that will produce the best possible data to answer your most pressing questions. 

Where do I start? 

Creating mobile apps for data collection is about more than what you collect rather than how you collect it. Before you start, you’ll need to think about what you are trying to achieve.

  • Consider specifics. Focus on the exact data you want to capture and avoid tangents that distract from your original purpose. Information that is “nice to have” but not crucial wastes your collection team’s time to conduct the survey.
  • Consider appropriate answer choices. Considering the best way to capture, process, and analyze the data will help you decide whether a question should be open-ended or limited to predetermined answers which, in turn, will affect how you write the question.
  • Consider supporting assets. Design and logistics go hand-in-hand, so determine what assets your team needs to successfully complete the survey. Whether tools or information, surveys often require additional resources, from the ability for field teams to verify their location to mobile data collection apps that require cellular connectivity. 

To help define what success looks like for you, start at the end and work backward. Identify what you want to learn and how you want to measure the results. Having clear goals helps shape a results-oriented process focused on your desired end state. 

What do I need to collect?

After defining the wider parameters for success, it’s time to analyze exactly what observations you need to collect and in what order.

  • Identify quality information. What do you want to know? By creating a testable and measurable hypothesis, you can determine the quantity and quality of the data you need to collect. Ask yourself if that data will answer all the right questions.  
  • Identify metrics. Deciding on metrics beforehand avoids after-the-fact bias that could threaten your survey’s objectivity. Remember that a survey is used to collect factual data, not prove a specific point, so by locking in key metrics you’ll know if the data you capture supports your hypothesis.
  • Break down desired results into individual components. If your survey needs 25 data points to answer your questions, organize them in a way that field collectors can fill out the survey efficiently. Cloud-connected mobile data collection platforms allow you to iterate versions until you get it right. 
  • Define scope and length. Trying to collect too much data leads people to abandon a survey midway, while collecting too little often fails to arrive at meaningful conclusions. Find the right balance between short and long surveys: the former enables rapid data capture but lacks depth, while the latter delivers a lot of information, but takes longer to execute.

Now that you’ve defined goals, metrics, and scope, it’s time to start writing the survey questions. 

Checking boxes on a mobile app - mobile apps for data collection

How do I write survey questions for my mobile apps for data collection?

Mobile apps for data collection surveys don’t need to be complicated to yield valuable information and insights, but keep the following tips in mind when writing your questions to produce more reliable, data-driven answers. 

Do:

  • Keep questions relevant. Ask only pertinent questions to keep the survey on track. Unless critical, avoid unnecessary and extraneous details like personal feelings and opinions that detract from your primary data points. 
  • Keep questions specific. Avoid misreading and incorrect answers by writing questions to be as short, direct, and specific as possible. This yields a more reliable data set and accelerates the whole survey process. Consider separating the survey into a range of smaller questions instead of a few long ones.
  • Keep the language simple. Avoid unnecessary or flowery language by writing in an unbiased, objective way your audience will find clear. If technical jargon is required, make sure the audience will understand it. 
  • One question, one answer. Break up your survey into smaller questions that ask for one thing at a time, avoiding open-ended questions with no definitive answers. This also allows analysts to work with more granular data and yield more reliable answers after processing. 
  • Offer a balanced set of responses. Avoid errors of omission by including a range of answer options that thoroughly cover all possible responses to the question. But don’t get too specific with predetermined options; if need be, use an “Other” option to rein in the number of answers.
  • Offer a comments field. While you want collectors to diligently follow the survey structure, having a general “comments” field for them to leave notes is an easy way to capture valuable qualitative data that enriches your answers

Don’t:

  • Use biased language and leading questions. Don’t taint an answer with your language. Phrase questions to be inclusive, respectful, and objective and avoid writing questions in a way that leads the subject to answer in a particular way.
  • Write questions as a negative. Phrasing questions negatively – asking what something is not instead of what is – can be confusing and may skew your results. Instead, write binary “yes or no” questions that are easier for collectors to understand.
  • Neglect considering question order. Ensure your questions flow according to how collectors will conduct the survey. Not just for ease of use, but having steps out of order can lead to confusion and inaccurate data.

How should I lay out my app? 

How you organize your mobile apps for data collection can reduce survey time, so consider these formats that accelerate collection speed, all easy to do on a digital platform.

  • Chunking. Grouping similar questions together make it easy for collectors to follow the process. Chunking the five questions on X and the five questions on Y into two groups makes more logical sense and simplifies the flow for collection teams. 
  • Labeling. Adding labels to chunks helps surveyors understand the rationale behind questions and helps demarcate progress. Well-labeled groups help parse longer surveys, making it easier to find specific questions without having to read each one.
  • Skip logic. Employing skip logic – where only relevant questions are placed in front of a collector, allowing them to bypass a question if a previous answer made it irrelevant – streamlines the survey and saves time. 
  • Calculation fields. Surveyors may need to conduct calculations using the answers to other questions. Instead of solving them by hand (or calculator for complex measurements), use calculation fields – easily inserted with mobile data collection platforms – to instantly take measurements, calculate, and generate an answer.

Surveying for success

Once the survey is complete, you’ll have all the data you need to support or disconfirm your hypothesis and answer the original question that prompted the survey. A thorough analysis of your results can also yield unexpected findings that suggest additional conclusions or even guidance for future surveys. 

Undoubtedly, mobile technology makes it much easier to design and execute surveys, a facility that also translates into more consistent and reliable data. To implement these tips, try Fulcrum’s industry-leading mobile data collection platform, specially designed to give you and your surveyors the best tools to create highly successful mobile apps for data collection.

 

Sign up for a free trial and start designing your surveys with Fulcrum’s mobile data collection platform.