Writing Effective Surveys

Getting the right data from your survey means you have to create the right questions for the right audience.

State the purpose of your survey and the reason why you are collecting data from this audience.

Many people are concerned about answering questions about themselves and sharing their opinions. Write why you are collecting the information and reassure each respondent that the information is entirely anonymous.

Include instructions with your survey.

What may seem obvious to you might not seem obvious to someone else. To ensure valid survey results, include a short introductory set of instructions at the top of the survey with additional instructions for specific questions as needed.

Your overall instructions may be something like:

This survey will help us design a professional development program that fits your needs. Please read each question thoroughly and answer each question to the best of your ability.

Specific instructions with each question may be something like:

Please check the top three professional development opportunities that you rate as your highest priorities.

Don’t ask for personal information unless you need it.

Asking for personal information (age, race, income, etc...) may irritate some respondents and prevent them from completing your survey. If you need this information, place these questions at the END of your survey and make it clear that all results will be anonymous and confidential. You can make results anonymous and confidential in My eCoach by creating a Public Only survey - only the author and co-authors have access to the data.

Keep questions short and clear.

Each question should be clearly stated so there is no misunderstanding about what is being asked. Test your survey before you distribute it to the all respondents.

Be careful of the double-barreled question.

This is a common mistake in surveys that can impact the results of your data. When you are writing a question, ask one question at a time. Here is an example of a double-barreled question:

Double-barreled Question

More Effective Questions

How have teachers and students at your school responded to the new bell system?
( ) Satisfied
( ) Unsatisfied

How have teachers at your school reacted to the new bell system?
( ) Satisfied
( ) Unsatisfied

How have students at your school reacted to the new bell system?
( ) Satisfied
( ) Unsatisfied

Teachers may like the new system while students do not, or vice-versa. One response does not apply to both groups.
Break this question into two separate questions with the key word (“teachers†in one and “students†in the next) in bold type or underlined.

Make sure the questions are unbiased.

Be careful of asking leading questions and write questions in a neutral way. Try not to phrase questions that reflect your underlying opinion.

Example of a Leading Question and How to Correct it

Leading Question

Neutral Question

The new cafeteria lunch menu offers a better variety of healthy foods than the old one.
( ) True
( ) False
( ) N/A

How do you feel about the new cafeteria lunch menu compared to the old one?
( ) A. The new menu offers a better variety of healthy foods
( ) B. The old menu offers a better variety of healthy foods
( ) C. The selections are similar
( ) D. No opinion

The leading question drives the respondent to the conclusion that the new menu is healthier than the old. The neutral question removes the bias.

Ask questions that can be answered by your respondents.

The most common mistake is to ask questions that most people simply cannot remember. Here is an example: How much did you spend on extra supplies for your room this year?

( ) nothing
( ) under $1
( ) From $1 to $20
( ) From $20 to $50
( ) From $50 to $100
( ) over $100

Categorize your questions

With more than six questions in your survey, group questions together by subject so the respondents can answer them as quickly as possible. This way respondents can answer a series of questions around these thoughts.

Test the survey

Once you have developed your survey, conduct a small test (5 -10 people) to make sure that respondents clearly understand the questions you are asking and that you are capturing the information that you need for your study.


Generate Actionable Survey Data

How to create a good survey

Master the Concepts of Survey and Questionnaire Design

Introduction to Survey Methodology and Design

Designing a Survey

FYI: My eCoach offers its members surveys that are clone-able, collaborative, disaggregate data, and are exportable.

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