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Survey Questions

What types of questions should you include in your survey? Proper question development is guided by the application of several basic principles, as well as knowing what types of questions to ask in order to effectively measure your desired attributes.

This tutorial will examine several key principles of question development, as well as the two basic types of survey questions and their variations.

Basics of Question Development

There are several basic principles to remember when developing your questions. Below are some key items to keep in mind as you write your survey questions.

Make sure your survey questions match your research objectives

You must always determine why you intend to conduct your survey research before you are able to properly write survey questions. For example, if you plan to conduct an exploratory research survey, your survey will usually not need to be as detailed as when you plan to conduct a confirmatory research survey. (See related article).

Understand your research participants

Remember that your target population, not you, are the ones completing the survey. Try to develop an ability to think like your potential respondents. If you can effectively consider how your research participants will interpret and react to each question on your survey, then your resulting data is likely to provide useful information (see related article).

Use natural and familiar language

Use language that is understandable to the type of respondents whom you are targeting. Consider the age of your respondents, their educational level, and any other relevant cultural characteristics of your respondents when deciding how to phrase your questions.

Types of Survey Questions

Survey questions vary according to what type of information they are trying to collect from the respondents, and how this information will apply to the goals of the survey. There are two basic types of survey questions: Open-ended and Closed-ended.

Open-ended

This type of question allows participants to respond in any way they choose. Open-ended questions provide primarily qualitative data, and are frequently used in exploratory research.

Example

What is your current marital status?

A: [Participants provide answers in their own words]

Closed-ended

In contrast to open-ended questions, closed-ended questions require participants to choose from a limited number of responses predetermined by the researcher. There are 5 basic types of closed-ended questions: Multiple-choice; Categorical; Likert-scale; Numerical; and Ordinal. Closed-ended questions provide primarily quantitative data, and are frequently used in confirmatory research.

Multiple Choice

Use a multiple-choice question when you want your respondents to choose the best possible answer among all options presented.

Example

What is your current marital status? (Select one.)
Single
Married
Divorced
Separated
Widowed

Categorical

Use a categorical question when the possible answers are categories, and the respondent must belong to one category.

Example

What is your gender?
Male
Female

Likert-Scale

Use a Likert-scale question when you are trying to determine respondents’ attitudes or feelings about something.

Example

How important do you think SAT scores are to a college student’s success? (select one):

Not very important 1   2   3   4   5   Extremely important

Ordinal

Sometimes you may want your respondents to rank order their responses. A ranking indicates the importance assigned by a participant to an attitudinal object.

Example

Please rank the importance of the following qualities in a team leader. (Please fill in your rank order in the spaces provided using the numbers 1 through 5)
A team leader that is sincere
A team leader that gets resources for the team
A team leader that is an advocate for the team
A team leader that is a strong disciplinarian
A team leader that is a good motivator

Numerical

When the answer must be a number, ask a numerical question.

Example

What is your current age? (select one)
Less than 18
18 to 29
30 to 39
40 to 49
50 or older

Remember: How you develop your questions depends on why you are conducting your survey, and how you plan to apply the data from your survey to your survey problem. Educate yourself on the various types of survey questions, and what purpose they serve before developing questions for your own survey project.

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