Writing and evaluating good survey questions

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A 4-hour workshop taught by Paul D. Umbach, Ph.D.

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Overview of our writing and evaluating survey questions workshop

Writing good survey questions can be very difficult. This workshop will give participants a solid practical foundation in how to write good survey questions. The purpose of this workshop is to arm you knowledge to develop valid and reliable questionnaires by looking at approaches for developing survey questions and methods for evaluating them. As survey researchers, it is difficult to be certain that respondents will interpret your questions exactly as you intend, can recall the information you need, and provide the answers you want. This workshop will introduce what is known about the psychology of survey response and generally accepted best practices for question writing. The workshop will also a review of methods for testing questions to ensure their validity and reliability.

Expected outcomes

You will leave this workshop with new strategies developing, evaluating, and critiquing survey questions. By the end of this workshop, will know how to write well constructed questions that attend to common concerns such as respondent memory, comprehension, and judgment. You will learn how to implement techniques, such as cognitive interviews and pilot tests, to diagnose problems with survey questions and find ways to reduce these problems. In the end, you will not only be a better consumer of survey research, but you will be able to develop valid and reliable survey questions and questionnaires.

Who should attend?

This course is aimed at anyone who who writes or reviews survey questions. This course gives practical guidance to those who have written survey questions but who are not familiar with research on question design, those who are just beginning to design survey instruments, and those who use survey data but do not themselves design survey instruments. The target audience for this workshop is a range of educational researchers, including institutional researchers, policy analysts, student affairs professionals, assessment professionals, graduate students, and faculty, who use surveys in their work. We also expect individuals from government, business, and non-profit organizations will also benefit from this course.


  1. Introduction to question writing
    1. Types of questions
    2. Parts of a question
    3. Cognitive processes for responding to survey questions
  2. General guidelines for writing questions
  3. Developing questions about facts
  4. Writing questions about attitudes
  5. Methods for evaluating and improving survey questions
    1. Expert review
    2. Focus groups
    3. Cognitive interviews
    4. Pre-testing
  6. Establishing validity and reliability