How to create surveys for international audiences

Here are some key points to think about when creating your survey. 

Shout out to our friends at Empower—our translation partners—for their top tips on creating surveys for international audiences! 

Using one language is fine—if you do it properly!

You might want to send surveys to multiple countries, but say, for example, those countries are the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. In that case, you could replicate the same English version of the survey and send it to all 4 markets in one go (something you can actually do with Attest!). 

If you do this, remember to bear subtle cultural and language differences in mind. For example, if you’re asking about chips, Americans think of those as one thing, while Brits know them as something different. You can allow for this when you write your survey by being as descriptive and inclusive as possible. 

Get your surveys translated where appropriate

This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. 

Make the time, effort and investment to get your surveys translated into high-quality versions that can be sent to your respondents in their primary language. 

Pro tip 💡

“Stay away from low quality translations from things like Google Translate (for your surveys at least)!

While Google’s tool is perfect when you’re trying to remember the French word for donkey, it’s definitely not ideal for getting fully contextualized, nuanced and complex translations of your surveys.”
Elliot Barnard
Customer Research Lead

Remember to build translation time into your project plan—it’s a vital step that you can’t afford to skip, but you’ll need to allow time for your translation to be written to a high quality. For this, we recommend reviewing the MRS-ATC Translation Checklist for advice on finding a specialist translation agency that is ISO 17100-registered.

Here’s a great example of a translated question from a survey sent to consumers in Portugal…

Check your demographics

In an ideal world, population demographics would be consistent from market to market.

This isn’t an ideal world, however. 

You should make sure you understand what each market’s demographic criteria are. For example, nationally representative samples—or Nat Rep—often include different ages and population makeups from country to country. 

Make sure you know this when digging into your data—you don’t want to draw conclusions from your insights that you then need to revisit because you’ve been looking at the wrong groups of consumers.

Consider local demographic nuances and legalities

Some countries have laws and customs that mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask certain demographic qualifying questions.

For example, you cannot legally ask about race or ethnicity in Germany and France (unless for specific reasons).

When asking about gender and sex in the UK or US, you are expected* to include options other than ‘Male’ or ‘Female’. In Saudi Arabia or Russia, where it is illegal or de facto illegal to be LGBTQ+, you should not include other options.

*This is in the MRS Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guide

Other demographic factors to think about are:

  • Salary bands: This will not be as simple as using a currency converter because of each country’s economic status. For example, salary bands in the US are significantly higher than in Thailand, where the cost of living is much cheaper. 
  • Occupation: There may be country-specific jobs or role definitions. 
  • Political affiliation: This will not be as simple as saying ‘left-leaning’ or ‘right-leaning’, as even left and right, or liberal and conservative, are relative to each country. For example, Germany and France have a political landscape that is more socialist than the US, so their ‘conversative’ may be considerably different to the US definition of conservative. And in the UK, ‘conservative’ might be confused with the actual Conservative Party—while there’s an ideological link between the two, they do still have slightly different meanings. 

Localize your questions wherever possible

Although your translation agency should do this for you, it’s good to be aware of how certain questions may affect your benchmarking.

For example, if you are asking a question about consumer goods or stores to people from multiple countries, the brand names will need to be reviewed for their relevance in that country.

Fun fact: ‘KFC’ in the US is known as ‘PFK’ in Quebec.

And some brands may not be available in other countries, such as high-end supermarket ‘Waitrose’ in the UK. In this case, you would need to find a price point equivalent in the other country.

Fun fact: for France, the match for ‘Waitrose’ would be high-end supermarket ‘Monoprix’.

Use open text questions with caution

While great survey questions that ask for open text answers are really valuable in most cases, having to analyze open text responses that have been submitted in multiple languages can be difficult. 

It’s likely to extend the time it takes to review your research results if you take a DIY approach, or—more likely—if you need to outsource that analysis.

Double-check your image choices

Think about the media you use when creating your survey. Could this be completely unrelatable—or worse, offensive—to your participants? 

For example, an innocent image of friends sharing a beer in a park would not be suitable for cultures that do not allow alcohol.

Keep a master English version

Having a master version of the survey that you can refer back to when you’re analyzing your insights makes things a whole lot easier. 

Comply with regional regulations

This bit’s not fun, but it is super important.

Bear local data protection laws in mind when creating your research—for example GDPR in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act in California, US, and the PIPL in China.

And make sure you remain compliant with ISO 27001 / ISO 20252 if you are certified – when writing and translating your survey, as well as processing the responses.

If you’re unsure about any of the nuances you need to think about for your international research, here’s a list of research and insights associations who’ll be able to guide you through the nitty gritty of your particular region’s research.

The Consumer Research Academy is brought to you by the Customer Research Team—our in-house research experts. Any research questions? Email or chat with the team.