How to Design and Conduct Surveys

Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD; Authenticity Consulting, LLC

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Before you design your questionnaire, clearly articulate what decision, problem or need is to be addressed by the answers to them. For example, review why you are doing the evaluation and what you hope to accomplish by it. This provides focus on what information you need and, ultimately, on what questions should be in the questionnaire. The following guidelines are relevant, whether you are using questionnaires on hardcopy or online.

Directions to Respondents

1. Include a brief explanation of the purpose of the questionnaire.
This also helps respondents to feel a sense of purpose and motivation for themselves when responding to the questionnaire.

2. Include clear explanation of how to complete the questionnaire.
It might be clear to you about how to do the questionnaire, but remember that others are seeing it for the first time. Unclear directions can produce unclear answers.

3. Include directions about where to provide the completed questionnaire.
For some questionnaires, it can take longer to provide them than to answer their questions. That can dissuade people from responding to it.

4. Note conditions of confidentiality.
Specify who will have access to the information and for what purposes. Explain how you will limit access and ensure confidentiality.

Content of Questions

1. Ask about what you need to know.
Get information about the goals or ultimate questions you want to address by the evaluation.

2. Ask questions that the respondent should be able to answer.
Make sure that the respondents can reasonably be expected to know the answers.

3. Ask questions that the respondents want to answer.
If the questions are too private or silly, the respondents may lose interest in the questionnaire.

Wording of Questions

1. Will the respondent understand the wording?
For example, are you using any slang, cultural-specific or technical words?

2. Are any words so strong that they might lead a respondent to a certain answer?
Attempt to avoid use of strong adjectives, for example, "highly effective government" or "prompt and reliable.”

3. Ensure you are asking one question at a time.
Try to avoid use of the word "and" in your question.

4. Avoid using "not" in your questions if you are asking yes/no questions.
Use of "not" can lead to double negatives and cause confusion.

5. In multiple-choice questions, be sure your choices are mutually exclusive.
Respondents should not be confused about whether alternatives mean the same thing.

Order of Questions

1. Engage respondents early in questionnaire to increase motivation to complete it.
Start with fact-based questions and then go on to opinion-based questions. For example, ask people for demographic information about themselves and then go on to questions about their opinions and perspectives. This helps respondents to feel confident and relaxed before encountering more challenging and reflective questions about their opinions.

2. Attempt to get respondents' commentary in addition to their ratings.
For example, if the questionnaire asks respondents to choose an answer by circling an answer or provide a rating, then perhaps ask them to also provide commentary that explains their choices. Be sure to provide sufficient space and time to include commentary.

3. Include a question to get respondents' impressions of the questionnaire itself.
For example, ask them if the questionnaire was straightforward to complete (“yes” or “no”), and if not, to provide suggestions about how to improve the questionnaire. This type of question can be extremely useful when modifying or designing questionnaires.

4. Test your questionnaire on a small group of people before including more people. Ask them if the questions seemed straightforward. Carefully review their answers. Do you understand them? Do their answers ultimately help you to answer your research questions? What changes should you make to the questionnaire?

5. Finish the questionnaire. Finish the questionnaire according to results of the pilot. Mark the questionnaire as being a master or baseline document. Put a date on it so you can keep track of all future versions.

Various Perspectives on Conducting Surveys

Sampling and surveying handbook
Guidelines for Employee Opinion Surveys
Survey Research - A Basic Primer
SPSS - surveys, sampling, etc.
resources for survey researchers
Business Survey Methods
Basics of Web Surveys
Guide to Designing Online Surveys (uses compensation survey as example)
The Secret Life of Surveys
How to Design an Employee Attitude Survey
Keeping on Top of Talent With Online Surveys
Lacie Barber on Survey Methodology Tips for Improving Quantitative Data Quality
Employee Surveys: If You Measure It, You Manage It
Basics of Satisfaction Survey Design – Part 1 of 4
Basics of Satisfaction Survey Design – Part 2 of 4
Basics of Satisfaction Survey Design – Part 3 of 4
Basics of Satisfaction Survey Design – Part 4 of 4
The Best Satisfaction Surveys
How to Simplify Survey Design

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