Surveys are another way of obtaining primary source information. Although they typically give less depth than a good interview, surveys can be given to a lot more people to get a bigger variety of responses. When making a survey, there are two basic types of questions you can ask. Unstructured questions ask respondents to provide a response in their own words, while structured questions ask respondents to select an answer from a given set of choices. After your survey is complete, it will be useful to look over the collected responses to see the big picture.

Don’t just write your surveys on a whim: design your questions carefully to provide specific information that will be useful to your research. Here are some things to think about as you make your survey:

  • Is the question clear and understandable: Survey questions should be clear and easy to understand and avoid using complicated jargon or advanced vocabulary.
  • Is the question worded negatively? Negatively worded questions tend to confuse many responses and lead to inaccurate responses. For example, the question, “Do you believe the team should not hire more coaches?” can be misinterpreted by someone trying to finish your survey quickly.
  • Is the question ambiguous? Survey questions should not use words or expressions that may be interpreted differently by different respondents (e.g., words like “any” or “just”). For instance, if you ask, “How long have you been in school?” some respondents may include grade school, while others just focus on university. Different interpretations by different respondents will lead to difficult-to-use results.
  • Does the question have biased words? Bias refers to any property of a question that encourages subjects to answer in a certain way. For example, asking respondents, “Do you support healthcare reform?” may encourage more positive responses than “Do you think the government should spend more money on healthcare?”.
  • Is the question double-barreled? Double-barreled questions can have multiple answers. For example, consider the question, “Are you satisfied with the hardware and software provided for your work?” In this example, how should a respondent answer if he/she is satisfied with the hardware but not with the software or vice versa?
  • Is the question too general? Sometimes, questions that are too general may not accurately convey respondents’ perceptions. For example, asking respondents, “What do you think of this design?” may result in so many different answers that it won’t be useful data. Instead, ask more specific behavioral questions, such as “Would you recommend this book to others?”




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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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