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Tips for Conducting a Survey

Working with Institutional Research (IR) to conduct a survey

IR can help you with your survey process, including:

  • Helping you design your survey questions
  • Setting up your survey online
  • Supporting you in Qualtrics
  • Providing you with a sample of students or faculty and staff to administer your survey to
  • Discussing your email or cover letter where you ask people to take your survey
  • Guiding you to any other places where you will need permissions prior to conducting your survey
  • Providing a simple summary of your survey results.

Each of these supports is discussed in greater detail below

Helping you design your survey questions

  • Why am I doing this survey? What do I hope to do or change as a result of this survey? What are my goals?
  • Who will receive my survey? What do I need to know about them?
  • What will I want to say in any report I develop at the end of the survey process? What will it contain? Does my survey include all information that I will need for my report? How will I analyze my responses?

In addition, as you develop the questions that comprise the survey, think of the following

  • Does this question address one of the survey goals? Is it essential information or simply interesting or nice-to-know?
  • What kind of data will your question elicit? Will the question give you enough information to be helpful? How will you analyze the responses? (Remember that open-ended questions require a different and more intensive kind of analysis to make sense of the responses.)
  • Does my response scale match the question? (Examples: Always-Frequently-Sometimes-Rarely-Never; Excellent-Good-Fair-Poor; Strongly Agree-Agree Somewhat-Neutral-Disagree-Strongly Disagree)
  • Do I have closed questions posing as open-ended questions? (Example: “Do you think improvements should be made to the facility?” is actually a “yes/no” question. Instead, this question could be “What, if any, improvements should be made to the facility?”)
  • Do I have double-barreled questions? (Example: Do you favor requiring all new freshmen and transfer students to attend orientation on campus? Instead, this could be split into two items, one for freshmen and one for transfers.)
  • Have I avoided jargon and abbreviations that might be unfamiliar to those taking the survey?
  • Have I asked questions that will require additional work from the respondent?
  • Have I asked questions in a way that are easiest to respond to (e.g., it is easier to remember what happened last week compared to last month or last year)?

As you look at your survey as a whole, think about the following

  • How long does it take someone to complete it? (You probably don’t want to go beyond 10-15 minutes.)
  • Have I grouped similar items together to make it easier to respond?
  • Do I have page breaks so the respondent doesn’t have to keep scrolling down?Are my directions for completing the survey clear?

At the end of the survey development process, IR recommends that you pilot test your survey with at least a few people to check for understanding, ease of response to the items, and time needed to complete the survey.

Setting up your survey in Qualtrics

  • If your survey has departmental or university impact, we will set up your on-line survey for you. Faculty with individual research agendas are encouraged to set up a Qualtrics account for their own use.

Supporting you in Qualtrics

Providing you with a sample of students or faculty and staff

  • Samples of students are coordinated through our office in order to ensure that students are not repeatedly surveyed. It is extremely unusual to conduct a survey that goes to all students. Samples of 1000-1500 are typically provided.
  • Surveys of faculty and staff are also usually based on samples. Surveys of faculty are typically approved by the Provost’s office
  • Contact Nick Warcholak at or by phone at 426-1117 to discuss your sample needs

Discussing your email or cover letter where you ask people to take your survey

Your email or cover letter requesting that people take your survey is an extremely important part of the process. Your email should cover:

  • Brief overview of the purpose of the survey
  • Why they should take the survey. Include items such as what you have done with results from prior administrations of the survey or what will happen based on these survey results
  • How much time the survey will take
  • Issues of confidentiality or anonymity
  • How results will be reported, including comments
  • Deadline for completing the survey

Providing guidance on other permissions you may need

Providing a summary of your survey results

  • Qualtrics provides an easy approach to summarizing the results of your survey questions. The results can be delivered to you as a Word document or stored online with a link to the summary. More extensive analyses such as cross tabs or correlations will need to be discussed with an IR staff member for feasibility.