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Designing Quality Survey Questions

Designing Quality Survey Questions

June 2018 | 256 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Surveys are a cornerstone of social and behavioral research, and with the use of web-based tools, surveys have become an easy and inexpensive means of gathering data. But how researchers ask a question can dramatically influence the answers they receive. 

Designing Quality Survey Questions shows readers how to craft high quality, precisely-worded survey questions that will elicit rich, nuanced, and ultimately useful data to help answer their research or evaluation questions. The authors address challenges such as language preferences for standard demographic questions (e.g. How to ask about gender), creative question design to keep respondents engaged and avoid survey fatigue, web-based survey formats, culturally-responsive survey design, and factors that influence survey responses (memory, social desirability, etc.). Numerous examples of questions illustrate each identified principle of question construction. 

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Why This Text

What This Text Is

What This Text Is Not

Who Can Benefit From This Text

Navigating This Text

A Note About Language

About the Authors
Chapter 1. WHY Quality Surveys and Questions Matter
What Is a Quality Survey?

Why Does Quality Matter?

Why Do We Need a Purposeful Survey Design Process?

Applying Design Thinking to Survey Research

A Purposeful Survey Design Process

An Iterative Process

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 2. Planning and Predrafting
Why Survey? The Importance of Establishing Purpose

What Will Be Measured? Understanding Constructs and Indicators

Wait, Do You Really Need a Survey?

What Can Be Measured With a Survey?

What Are the Advantages and Limitations of Surveys?

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 3. Understanding Respondents
Cognitive Tasks Involved in Answering Questions

Respondent Willingness and Ability to Participate in a Survey

Context and Culture

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 4. Sourcing and Crafting Questions
Sourcing Survey Questions

Composing Question Stems

Avoiding Problematic Wording and Question Types

Open-Ended Questions

Closed-Ended Questions

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 5. Constructing Response Options
Determining Appropriate Response Options

Strategies for Designing Response Options

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 6. Special Purpose and Sensitive Questions
Questions With Special Purposes

Sensitive Questions

Demographic Questions

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 7. Finalizing Questions and Using Pretesting Strategies
Why Pretest Surveys and Their Questions?

How Can Surveys and Their Questions Be Tested Prior to Use?

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Chapter 8. Pulling It All Together to Maximize Response
Survey Instructions

Order Effects

Formatting the Survey

Contacting Potential Respondents

Planning for Administration

Discussion Questions

Design Drills

Extended Learning

Appendix: Checklist for Quality Question Design

“This is a comprehensive, concise guide to creating quality questions that provides guidance and rationale for design choices that will improve survey research.”

Anne K. Hughes
Michigan State University

“A one-stop shopping manual to survey design.” 

Allison K. Wisecup
Radford University
Key features


  • A design thinking framework helps researchers understand and empathize with their potential respondents and be able to build and test survey prototypes before administering surveys.
  • Direct guidance on potentially difficult aspects of survey writing, including crafting clear question stems and appropriate response options, working with sensitive question types, and understanding how question wording can influence response, address considerations for writing and administering surveys.
  • Stories from the Field boxes provide “real world” experiences collected from practitioners who share lessons learned about survey design.
  • Design Drills exercises challenge the reader and support application of the information included.
  • Discussion Questions designed for group discussion or individual reflection on the content included.

For instructors

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