Using respondent persona in questionnaire design

You may already be aware that a persona is a fictitious representative of a segment of your target demographic that is traditionally used in marketing. You may not know however, that at HealthSurveySolutions a new service from DHP Research, we are experimenting in using survey respondent personas in the design of health survey questionnaires to help us define more specifically the population we want to target – a touchstone for creating questionnaire content.

Building personas for the target population can help improve the way we design the questionnaire, the language we use, the questions we ask and overall the way we communicate with respondents.

Why personas and not segmentation and cohorts?


Personas are specific archetypes of people in the target population. The attributes identified across the group are collected resulting in a single entity that represents the target population. A persona is given a descriptive name that represents a composite of people that exist.


Segments are groupings of similar entities. You can  quite literally segment by any set of rules in your data. For example patients could be segmented by type of diabetes, treatment, clinic etc.


Cohorts are groupings based on similar experience. Common vernacular for cohorts would be generations.


Neither segments or cohorts however, provides the information that helps us define the character to facilitate genuine understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the target population.

A persona should have enough psychological detail to allow us to be able to step  into the persona’s view and see how the respondent views, understands and answers the survey from their perspective.


How do we create a survey respondent persona?

The first step is working closely with the client who in many cases will have both an explicit picture of the target population, for example demographic data as well as actual conversions with members of the population. Of course we can spread the net much wider such as getting input from the team and drawing on other relevant data such as earlier survey results, and qualitative research including, in-depth interviews and focus groups. Blog postings can also be a very useful source and community networks where patients post their stories. We are for example currently working with Macmillan Cancer Support looking at the stories patients are posting on the PEBL site of their experiences of the care they are receiving.

The next step is to build up the persona template. This will involve bringing together all the quantitative and qualitative data and insights.The element of the persona will depend on the objectives of the survey, the target population and the type of information needed. A key component of the persona is identification when possible of the goals or motivations/needs that drive the behavior (activities or actions) of the persona. Finally, it is often helpful to create brief stories that illustrate how the persona’s challenges or the pain points that can be addressed by the services. However, common elements of a persona template are:

  • Persona group (e.g. single parent)
  • Fictional name
  • Occupation
  • Demographics such as age, level of education, ethnicity, family status, number of children

For a particular health survey this could also include for example:

  • Health status
  • Disease type
  • Treatment
  • Complications
  • Comorbidity
  • Frequent DNA
  • Health needs

patient personaExample of a patient persona

Give the persona a name.

We also name the persona so it gives us the feeling that we are dealing with a real person


Here it is more than likely that one persona may not cover the entire target population and therefore, it will be necessary to produce several from which we can build a persona map which shows the overlay of the target persona from which we take the common elements as our key persona.persona map


Once we’ve established the composite persona we can then begin to identify individuals that closely match the persona from which questionnaire content can be developed, evaluated and tested.

If you would like more information on work with respondent persona contact us using the form below.

Categories: Questionnaire design

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