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

Structuring Response Options

Survey questions and response options can be structured in several ways.

Closed-ended questions:
  • Check only one: These questions include a pre-determined scale or list of response options, and respondents select only the one option that best applies to them.
  • Check all that apply: These questions allow respondents to select multiple responses (e.g., you might ask about changes they have experienced as a result of the program, and then allow them to select all that apply).
    • Other and None of the Above: “Check all that apply” questions should include an “Other” option, in case respondents have additional information to share. You may also want to offer a “None of the Above” option, in case respondents feel that their experiences are not reflected in any of the response options.
Open-ended questions: You can add these as a follow up to closed-ended questions, or as stand-alone questions. They allow respondents to elaborate or explain why they chose the response option they did, or to share answer in their own words. Open-ended questions can elicit 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

  • Race/ethnicity: 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). If you are asking about race/ethnicity as a multiple choice question, offer a fill-in option.
  • 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.