The content of the survey stems directly from your research questions. Still, much care is needed to develop survey questions that will effectively and efficiently elicit the information you want. Ideas for specific survey questions can come from existing instruments, colleagues, members of the target population (collected via focus groups or interviews), and your own observations. It is important to balance adequate coverage of your research questions (comprehensiveness) with conciseness. Avoid the temptation to include questions that may provide interesting but not particularly useful results. Also, consider whether some of the data you want is available through other sources such as institutional files (see #1 above).
Surveys should begin with a statement that clearly explains:
- The purpose of the survey
- That participation in the survey is voluntary
- That respondent can skip questions he/she would prefer not to answer
- Whether responses provided will be treated as anonymous or confidential data
- How information from the survey will be reported and used
When composing survey questions, here are some general guidelines to bear in mind:
- Survey methodologists specialize in the construction of survey questions and their response categories. Consider having someone with survey design expertise review your survey instrument.
- Response categories should reflect a comprehensive array of choices, including “not applicable,” “don’t know,” and/or “other,” where appropriate
- Limit the use of open-ended questions; as much as possible, position these at the end of the survey instrument
- Short surveys generate more responses and minimize the imposition on the valuable resource of our students' time
Survey questions should not be “leading” or contain jargon or technical terms that may not be understood by all respondents
Pretest your survey instrument with a subset of your target population. This provides a critical test of the clarity, comprehensiveness, and length of your survey.