A survey is a data-collection method used when information about a group of people's opinions, behaviors, or knowledge is needed. Surveys can be given as written questionnaires, administered online through email or a website, or conducted over the phone. Surveys can be analyzed using quantitative methods.

I. Suggested Uses of Surveys:

  • When identifying needs or preferences, especially of a large or geographically diverse group of people
  • When assessing people's satisfaction
  • When identifying or prioritizing problems to address
  • When evaluating proposed changes
  • When determining whether a change was successful
  • To monitor changes in student satisfaction over time
  • When you want to be able to quantify responses easily
  • When you want to make use of technology such as Google Forms (free), Survey Monkey (free for surveys under 10 questions long: $19.95/month for unlimited access) or Zoomerang (free for 100 responses to surveys under 12 questions long: $199/year for unlimited) to collect responses to questions

II. Limitations of Surveys:

  • Data are self-reported, so poor memory, misunderstanding the question, or intentional deception can lead to inaccuracies in the data.
  • Response rates may be low or may represent a particular subsection of the group you're interested in.
  • Data analysis may be complex and time-consuming.
  • There is no opportunity for follow-up questions.
  • Conducting a survey creates expectations for change. Do not survey if action will not or cannot be taken as a result.

III. Survey Development and Administration:

  • Determine goals for the survey and how you will use the results.
  • Decide who should be surveyed. If you are not surveying the entire population, define the sample group (e.g., all ninth and eleventh graders, every fifth student on the roster in grades 9-12: all parents who attend a school event).
  • Decide on the most appropriate type of survey (e.g. paper, online, phone). There are many inexpensive or free survey platforms online that have step-by-step directions on how to develop the survey. These platforms also compile the responses into a basic database as the data is collected.
  • Decide whether the survey's answers will be:
    • Closed, e.g., numerical rating, numerical ranking, yes/no, multiple choice,
    • Open-ended, with respondents writing answers in their own words, or
    • A mixture.

Type of Question

Best Used for . . .


When the respondent's own words are important; when the surveyor doesn't know all the possible answers or doesn't want to guide respondents. Open-ended questions provide primarily qualitative data (e.g. The best part of my experience at this school this year has been . . . What do you plan to do after graduating from high school?). Consider how many questions you ask because they take longer to analyze.

Multiple choice

When there is a finite number of responses to a question (e.g., What is your gender? Have you filled out a financial aid form?)

Likert scale

To assess a person's feelings about something (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree) (e.g., Math is easy for me; I would recommend this school to others)


To rate or rank things in relation to other things (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (e.g., Please identify the top five reasons for students leaving this high school)


For real numbers, like age, number of months (e.g., How many days per week do you play sports? What is your GPA?)

5. Develop questions and list possible answers for multiple choice questions.

  • Keep questions simple. Use simple wording and provide clear, concise instructions.
  • Make it interesting. Vary the question format.
  • Keep the survey short. For each question, ask yourself, "How will I use this data?"
  • Consider including demographic information about your respondents, such as gender, race/ethnicity, or grade level.
  • Test the survey with a small group to collect feedback.
  • Which questions were confusing?
  • Were any questions redundant?
  • Were answer choices clear? Were they interpreted in the way you expected?
  • Did the respondents want to give feedback about topics that were not included?
  • Approximately how long did it take the respondent to complete the survey?
  • Were there any typos or printing errors?
  • Test the process of tabulating and analyzing the survey results.
  • Revise the survey based on the feedback and test analysis.
  • Administer the survey. Include clear overall instructions and a specific timeframe for survey completion. Send reminders halfway through the survey timeframe and right before the end of the survey timeframe.

Survey Analysis and Reporting:

  • Closed survey questions can be analyzed by tallying the number and percent of each type of response. For example, there might be 150 "yes" answers (75% yes) and 50 "no" answers (25%) to a question. Display the number and percent of the responses following each survey question. Graphs and charts can be used to make interpretation easier.
  • Open survey questions should be analyzed by grouping the responses to each question. Look for clusters of responses that fit together and summarize what they say. You may want to use some direct quotes that illustrate a point or provide extra insight into respondents' views.
  • Create a report that sums up the responses of those who completed the survey. Provide the report to people interested in the topic. When possible, discuss the meaning of the report as well as any implications for practice.


  • Tague, N.R. 2004. The Quality Toolbox, 2nd ed. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Press
  • Waddington, H. 2000. Types of survey questions. In B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational
  • Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved June 4, 2010, from http://edweb.sdsu.edu/eet/articles/surveyquest/start.htm
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