Conducting a Survey? Institutional Research Can Help You!
Surveys can be very powerful and useful research tools. However, if badly constructed they can cause confusion, quickly consume resources, and yield useless data. In order for the IR office to provide the best assistance to you, please consider the following tips before writing a survey:
- Plan in advance. Surveys may take anywhere from one week to a month or more to develop, depending on complexity and format.
- Determine your needs. Create a list of issues, questions, ideas, presumptions, etc. that you want to gain insight into. Ensure that this information is not available from other sources before beginning the survey process.
- Aim for brevity and simplicity. Use wording that is easy to understand and avoid using jargon and abbreviations. You may only need to ask 5 to 10 targeted questions to get the information your are looking for.
- Give clear instructions. Provide the reason/purpose of the survey and clear directions for completing and returning the survey. Include instructions throughout the survey where applicable (such as "select only one" or "mark all that apply"). Also, prominently post any response deadlines.
- Ask one question per question. Do not confuse the respondent or your analysis with questions that force one response for two questions. For example, do not ask "Are you satisfied with access to faculty and administration?" Instead, separate faculty and administration into different questions.
- Use multiple choice questions. This will decrease the time it takes to complete the survey and make analysis easier. Make sure that response options are mutually exclusive. For example, if you are asking for the respondent's age, the options should be 0-18, 19-24, 25-34, etc. and not 0-18, 18-25, 25-35, etc.
- Keep rating scales consistent. Utilize the same rating scale for all questions. Additionally, the most positive response should have the highest numerical value. For example, Very Satisfied should have a value of 5 on a 0-5 scale.
- Provide balanced response options. For example, if there are options of Very Satisfied and Satisfied there must also be options of Unsatisfied and Very Unsatisfied.
- Do not lead respondents to an answer. For example, do not ask "Do you agree that the cost of text books is too high?" Instead, ask the respondent to rank the cost of text books on a scale from Very Expensive to Not Very Expensive.
- Make it flow. Questions should follow a logical order, starting more general and becoming more specific.
If the survey is going to be administered over the Internet, consider the following:
- Be honest about length. Tell respondents up front how much time they should allow for the survey. If the survey takes 30 minutes to complete, do not tell them it will take 15 minutes.
- Show the progress. For surveys that are more than one or two pages, provide a progress indicator that shows how much of the survey is remaining.
- Send reminders. Telephone or email reminders can help to increase the response rate.
- Test, Test, Test! Test the survey and underlying database prior to opening the survey to ensure everything is working correctly.