How to Design a Survey: 8 Easy Steps

How to Design a Survey: 8 Easy Steps

Surveys are a series of questions distributed to a specific body of people, also known as the subjects. The responses of the survey are used as data for researchers. You likely have filled out at least one survey in your lifetime as the subject!

Designing a survey can be a bit complicated as it requires math skills as well as common sense and practical thinking. It can be challenging to ask the questions you want without confusing or offending the people completing the survey.

You definitely won’t be an expert when you start out. After all, there is a first for everything! Fortunately, through education, thought and practice, designing a survey will be a piece of cake. Below is a series of steps on how to design a survey.

Step 1: Establish an objective.

Even though this is the first step of the survey form making process, it is one of the most difficult! Since your survey will be used for research purposes, you want to determine what kind of information you are gathering exactly, otherwise known as your objective.

In research, it can be easy to stray from what you initially set out to do. Take the time at the very beginning of the process to collect your ideas and thoughts by establishing an objective and series of goals. If you ever feel lost designing the survey, refer back to your objective and goals.

Step 2: Decide between structured or fixed response questions.

There are two types of questions that are used in surveys, one is the structured or fixed response questions, the other is a non-structured or open-ended question. Structured questions offer the responder a limited amount of options as their answer. For example, true or false questions are structured because there are only two options that the responder can choose from.

Structured questions are ideal for situations where the researchers thoroughly understand the potential answers or when researchers do not want respondents to answer with creativity or new ideas. These types of questions also make data collection simple and rapid since information is much easier to collect and process.

Step 3: Decide between non-structured or open-ended questions.

With a non-structured or open-ended question, there are an infinite amount of potential responses, so the responder is simply asked to write an answer. Data from surveys with these types of questions can take a long time to process since you need to read and evaluate each person’s response on an individual basis.

That being said, the quality of the information collected from these types of questions is richer. These types of questions allow researchers to fully comprehend what the respondents are thinking as well as their inner values and ideas.

Step 4: Decide the hybrid questions.

It is possible to use a hybrid question using the structured and non-structured components. Simply provide a list of options for the respondent to choose from and a final option marked something along the lines of “other”. Hybrid questions are helpful because you are giving the respondent to freedom to speak their mind if they wish.

Step 5: Avoid the double barreled questions.

A double barreled question is a question that is asking for more than one piece of information from the respondent. Each question should clearly ask for one thing so that the responder isn’t confused. It may seem like you’re hitting two birds with one stone with a question like this, however, it will only lead to confusion.

Step 6: State Your Intentions

Surveys are asking people for personal information in a way, but people may not always want to disclose those details. However, if you state your intentions with the survey, people are more likely to help out and discuss their personal information.

You can state your intentions by putting a brief and clear description of your research and objective at the very top of your survey. It should be the first thing your respondents see when completing the survey.

Step 7: Include instructions with questions.

As a researcher, you will have looked at the survey a million times by the time it reaches the respondent’s hands. What is obvious and clear to you may not be obvious to the reader, after all, this isn’t their area of expertise! To avoid confusion during the survey, put instructions for questions, particularly for the trickier open-ended questions.

Step 8: Test survey questionnaires.

Before you hit the ground running with your survey, test it! The last thing you want is to collect a bunch of surveys only to find that the data is useless. It’s best to gather five to ten people to try out your survey.

Encourage feedback by asking questions such as, were you confused by the phrasing or organization of questions? Or, were you offended by the questions asked of you? By testing the survey, you will have the opportunity to perfect the delivery of your survey which will ensure the best data is collected.


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