Good survey design requires some thought and effort. When planning a survey, remember the following guidelines. If you would like to request assistance from OIEA, submit a request through our online Data Request Form. If you think you will need assistance, please contact us as early in the planning process as possible. OIEA staff will consult with you to help you complete the following steps.
- Determine the deadline for reporting the data the survey will collect. The complete survey process usually takes about four to six months from the first step to completing a report of the results. Creating a time line from the finish date to the first task will ensure that you complete the survey report on time.
- Identify the questions you want the data to answer. Identify the overall reasons for conducting the survey. What will you know after you have conducted the survey?
- Identify the data you need to answer those questions. Do you need performance data, opinions, comparisons based on some criteria, etc.? The data you need will form the foundation of the survey form.
- Identify the people from whom you will gather the data. Responses from which group of people will provide you the most useful data? Surveying students to determine their satisfaction with job placement services, for example, is useful only if the students you survey have used the services of the job placement office. Also, if your questions require data from people who meet specific characteristics, this is the step in which you identify those characteristics (students with 0-9 hours, students with 10-15 hours, students majoring in X, etc.).
- Determine when to conduct the survey. In general, the information you are collecting determines when you conduct the survey. If your major interest has to do with information about expectations of a course, for example, the survey should be conducted at the beginning of the course. If, on the other hand, you are seeking information regarding student experience of a course or with the use of services, the survey would provide the most useful results at the end of the semester or after the use of the service. If you are measuring impact or change resulting from an experience, you may wish to survey the selected group both before and after the experience.
- Design the methodology for conducting the survey. This is the step where you decide the procedures for conducting the survey: the number of people you will survey, how you will survey them (by phone, in class, a mailed form, or on the internet), etc. Additional methodological issues to consider are whether or not to make follow-up contacts and how to prepare the forms for data entry, etc.
- Many people are interested in web-based surveys as an alternative to more traditional methods such as by phone, in class, or a mailed form. Web-based surveys do have a number of advantages, including time and cost savings and increased flexibility. They are, however, more suitable for groups of people comfortable using computers and with internet access. Web-based surveys also tend to have lower response rates than more traditional methods, so more thought should be given to creating incentives for participants to take the survey.
- Design and produce the survey form. Creating a useful survey form, a topic about which many books have been written, requires careful thought and skillful application of some basic rules. Keep in mind that a survey form should be as brief as possible (aim for no more than one side of a single page at most) and should create as little frustration as possible to increase the likelihood that it will be completed and returned. The aim of a useful survey form is to help the people you are surveying give you the information you need in a form that is useful. Include only those questions which are important to the current study, for example, don’t ask for “age” if it is not pertinent to answering your outcomes question.
- Make the questions specific; avoid vague qualifiers and abstract terms. Terms like “usually”, “most”, and “now” are full of ambiguity. Instead, use “each day/week/semester”, “4 of 5 times”, or “since you completed the class”. Also, avoid including multiple items in one question, such as asking the respondent for their satisfaction with faculty and staff as one response. The respondent’s satisfaction for faculty may be different from that for staff, but the structure of the question does not allow for any differentiation and the response may not adequately reflect the respondent’s satisfaction for either group.
- Start with easier questions and move to more difficult or boring ones. The first questions should be chosen with care. They should “hook” the reader into answering the survey questions.
- Ask questions in a logical order. If using a printed survey, avoid “contingency” questions; those where you check “yes” to one question, and then go to another set of questions elsewhere. They are confusing and tend to lower the number of completed survey forms returned.
- Construct response categories carefully. Response categories must allow for all possible responses yet not be too long. If you are asking students how much time they spend studying, you would want to include “never” as well as “X hours every day” but you would not want to list all the number of hours in a day. You would provide categories of hours within the day, such as “1-3 hours per day”, “4- 6 hours per day”, etc.
- Provide clear and sufficient directions, including the reason for the survey, whether responses are to be anonymous (the respondent is unknown) or confidential (the responses will be aggregated and no single respondent will be identified), how the respondent is to complete the survey form, and what to do with it when it has been completed.
In other words, as you are constructing the form, keep in mind the last survey form you were asked to complete and design yours the way you wish it had been designed, that is, from the perspective of those who will be completing it.
When possible, have about ten people who are similar to those you plan to survey complete the form and give you feedback, then make improvements accordingly. Are the directions clear? Are the questions easy to understand? Does the format invite responses? How long did it take them to complete the form? Did your test respondents provide the types of responses you expect (in other words, did they understand the meaning of the question as you intended it to be understood)?
- Conduct the survey. Distribute survey forms, or send out invitations for web-based surveys, as outlined in the methodology (step 6). As they are returned, track the number completed. If your survey form was a scan-able form (bubble sheet), clean up the responses. This includes making sure bubbles are completely filled in, using a pencil to go over any bubbles that were filled in with ink, erasing any stray marks, and checking that all identifying data are complete (e.g. section number or course number). For web- based surveys, work with the software application for extracting and analyzing survey responses. As the deadline for returning the survey form approaches, determine whether you will send a reminder to return it. Reminders can be as simple as an email message with the link to the survey or a postcard reading “Did you submit your completed survey form yet?” or more complex, perhaps another copy of the survey form and a reminder note; or even a phone call to those people who have not returned the form, requesting that they respond over the phone.
- Analyze the data. There are several software packages available to analyze data. OIEA is available to provide consulting services to assist you with your data analysis on an as- available basis.
- Report the results. The final task of conducting a survey is to communicate the findings clearly and accurately so they can be used for making decisions. Your report should include a meaningful title. “Student Survey Results” says little; “Factors Related to Student Attrition” says much more. To orient the reader to your report, include the purpose of the study and how the survey was conducted (the methodology used). Provide a summary of your results, including any tables or charts displaying data. And finally, draw your conclusions and make recommendations based on your findings.