Adhere to the following principles to ensure your survey questions are relevant, understandable, and ultimately, can be analyzed to generate actionable information.

Ensure that your questions are as clear and concise as possible:

Use simple language. If you need to use a term that is unique to your program or otherwise less commonly used, provide a short definition.

Avoid asking more than one question at a time. Avoid using “and” and “or” in constructing survey questions. Even if two ideas seem very related, make them into two questions. This makes the survey easier to fill out, and prevents you from wondering later what the respondent meant in their answer.

Avoid leading questions. Consider the question: How have family members responded to your increased commitment to conservation? This presupposes the participant has an increased commitment to conservation, which is an assumption that may not be true. Leading questions bias your results.

Structuring Response Options

Consider the types of questions and response options you develop. There are various types of questions that can be included in surveys.

Closed-ended questions:
  • Check only one: These types of questions are those with a set scale or pre-determined list of response options where respondents can select only one option.
  • Check all that apply: Some survey questions ask about specific examples of changes individuals have experienced as a result of your program, for example, and respondents can check as many response options as apply to their experience.
    • Additional Response/Other and None of the Above: “Check all that apply” questions should have an “Additional Response/Other” option, in case respondents have additional experiences to include that are not already reflected in the provided response options. There also may be a “none of the above” response option, so if none of the options apply and there is no “additional/other” response that can be provided, respondents can check that box.
Open-ended questions: These are questions you can add as a follow up to a closed-ended question or include on their own where respondents can elaborate or explain why they chose the response option they did or share answers in their own words. These also can provide useful quotes to include in your reports!

Developing a Survey Scale

  • Generally, use survey scales that have 5 or fewer points. You may be tempted to use scales with a wider range, but smaller scales are easier for respondents to understand and for you to analyze. If you don’t want to have a mid-point (to force participants to choose between negative or positive), use a 4-point scale.
  • The most negative rating option should always be your lowest numeric option. That means that ratings like “large decrease,” or “very bad” should equal 1, while ratings like “large increase,” or “excellent” should equal 5.
  • If you have a mid-point in your survey scale, make sure it is neutral. “Neither agree nor disagree” or “Neither positive nor negative” are examples of this.
  • Make your question type and scale consistent to the extent possible throughout your survey. This will make it easier for your respondent to answer your questions, and easier for you to analyze the responses later.
  • Add a “not applicable” or “I don’t know” option at the end of your scale. These are responses that will not be included in the percentages or averages you report, but it’s important to give respondents this option.

Asking About Demographics

Many surveys ask about race/ethnicity and gender in ways that some groups consider to be problematic (i.e., including Latino in the same category as white).
  • Gender: Consider including transgender and/or other appropriate non-binary gender options. Also consider including a fill-in option for those who do not identify with pre-determined categories.