Tips for a Successful Survey

Getting people to respond meaningfully to surveys can be a challenge.  You can improve your chances of maximizing participation and achieving a representative sample of your target audience by following a few basic best practices:

Identify and understand your feedback objective.  Spend some time thinking about your goal for the survey.  For example, for a course evaluation, focus on questions about organization and presentation of content, relevance to student educational or career objectives, degree of difficulty, subject matter completeness, etc.  For a teacher satisfaction survey, focus questions on compensation, administrative support, opportunities for professional growth, the school environment, etc. That way you create questions that that zero in on the exact information you seek, resulting in a survey that meets your feedback objectives.

Keep the survey short, simple and focused.  A shorter survey with a clear purpose has a greater likelihood of achieving useful results.  Questions should be direct and connected to the underlying theme of the survey.  Numerous studies show that keeping the survey as brief as possible—30 or fewer questions and under 10 minutes in duration—maximizes responses.  If you need additional, qualitative information, you also can ask some open-ended questions that will allow participants to voice their opinions.

Questions should encourage balanced, thoughtful responses.  Avoid leading or antagonizing questions, or questions that are overly complex.  A clear question encourages a clear response.

Respect participants’ time.  Use a concise, clearly worded invitation or lead-in to the survey that lets participants know why you need their help, the value of their responses, and how you will use the feedback.  

Don’t over-survey.  Work to avoid survey fatigue among participants—avoid an endless stream of survey requests.  Solicit their participation at or near the completion of a course, on a quarterly basis, or as part of an annual performance review.  For seminars or CE classes, you can distribute the survey at the end of the session or email a solicitation for an online, follow-up survey to each participant.  Coordinate survey activity among departments to ensure that you keep the number of survey requests at a reasonable level.

Offer to share results.  When appropriate, let participants know that you will share aggregate data so they can see how their response compares to their peers’ input.  When appropriate, post results on your school’s web site.

Let them know when their feedback results in new policies or initiatives.  That way they can see that you are listening to their voices and that their feedback has genuine value that leads to improvements.  Similarly, teachers should let administrators know how survey results are helping them articulate professional goals, change classroom behavior or alter course content.

Encourage audiences to participate.  Teachers and administrators should make it clear that they study survey results and use them the way they are intended to be used—as tools to improve faculty performance and support professional growth. 

Click onsample surveys to see templates for a variety of surveys that were created using these best practices.

Click on case history to read about the ways educators use surveys as an integrated measurement, evaluation and improvement tool.