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Creating Survey Questions

Creating Survey Questions

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students will learn about different types of survey questions.

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In this tutorial, we'll take a closer look at the process of creating questions for your professional development survey. We'll begin by discussing some basic ideas that you should consider as you create your questions, and then we'll look at two specific question types-- questions with structured responses and questions with unstructured responses. Let's get started.

First, here are some general ideas that you should consider as you are developing your survey questions. First of all, all of the questions in the survey should be aligned with the topic or the objective of the survey. The types and structures of the questions that you design should help you to target those objectives, so once you've addressed these elements, you then are ready to decide what types of responses you're going to collect from the people who respond to the survey.

There are two different types of common responses to survey questions-- structured responses and unstructured responses. Your decision about whether you would like to utilize structured or unstructured responses is going to be guided by your decisions about how you want to collect and analyze the data. So let's look at each of these types of responses in turn.

Let's look first at questions that have structured responses. For these types of questions, specific options or choices are provided for the questions. These might include true/false questions, multiple choice questions, and questions that have the respondents make a rating on a scale. There are several benefits to using questions that have structured responses.

First, the data from this type of question is simply easier to compare. Also, having that set of answer choices or options provided as part of the question can actually increase the respondent's awareness of the options or of the possible answers to the question. This might provide that survey taker with options that they weren't even aware existed or may just spark their memory and prompt them to choose an answer that maybe they wouldn't have if the options had not been presented to them right away.

There are some drawbacks here to the use of structured responses. First, using structured responses requires the survey designer to determine all of those possible responses, and also, that limited number of responses may actually end up excluding some of the more creative or unusual responses that you might get to a more open-ended type of question.

So questions involving structured responses might be a good fit when there is a limited and predefined list of possible answers or options or when you want feedback according to predefined degrees on a scale. Here are some examples of situations in which it might make sense to use a structured question.

If you want teachers in your school to choose a professional development opportunity or course from among a set of pre-existing options, a structured response type of question would be a good fit, because that limited list would be the complete list of all of the possible courses or opportunities that teachers could choose from.

Another example would be having students and maybe even staff members, other stakeholders, community members vote for a new school mascot. This one would maybe be just more of a fun opportunity than something related specifically to professional development, but still, it's an example of something that contributes to the overall climate of your school. And again, the structured response might be the best option here, because allowing for just any and all answers might create, first of all, just an impossibly long list of responses, and also might invite responses that maybe aren't appropriate or aren't relevant.

A third and final example might be having teachers rate issues related to the school on a sliding scale. This could help you to determine the relative importance or relative urgency of those issues. And again, limiting the responses to a predefined scale would just help to standardize those responses and, again, make an effective and meaningful comparison.

Here are some examples of structured questions. Question one here is a true/false question. This type of question is good for gathering factual information, like just establishing whether or not teachers were present at a particular professional development opportunity. Question number two is an example of a multiple choice question. This question is allowing teachers to select from among four different professional development opportunities on a specific date. And this third set of questions actually are rating questions or sliding scale questions. Teachers are asked to rate each school related issue in terms of its overall importance to the school community. You can see that a scale of one to five is used, and the two ends of the scale are labeled so that there is standardization, so that teachers understand what the two ends of the scale mean.

So now let's look at unstructured responses in comparison. These types of questions have open-ended answers. Often, these answers will be in the form of a sentence or a phrase or a number. You may choose to give the participants some guidelines relative to the link or the nature of the response. But it is important to note that even with guidelines, the answers really can vary greatly between the individual people who are taking the survey.

Let's first look at some benefits of using unstructured responses. First, these types of questions can simply capture a much wider range of possible answers. In fact, the open-ended nature of these questions allows for some of those more unexpected answers or more creative answers to the questions. Furthermore, the unstructured response allows the participants to add greater levels of detail and depth in their responses.

And from the point of view of the designer of the survey, these unstructured response questions are typically much easier to write, because you don't need to try to anticipate all of the possible answers to the questions. On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to using this type of question. First, it may be much more difficult to analyze and interpret the responses to these types of questions. If there is a lot of variation in the responses to the survey questions, it can just be very difficult to draw conclusions from that data.

Additionally, those more open-ended answers may end up, in some cases, straying from the question that is being asked, or they may actually be irrelevant to the question. So unstructured response questions may be a good choice when you are asking questions for which you want those greater levels of depth and detail in the responses or when you are specifically looking for some creative ideas.

So you may wish to use these unstructured responses when you are going to ask teachers to suggest some possibilities for upcoming professional development topics or when you are gathering some basic but individual data. Even something as simple as just asking someone for their name or for a telephone number is going to require that unstructured type of response.

A final example might be if you are asking teachers to give very specific comments about a professional development activity in which they have recently participated. So you may wish to include a structured response type of question, where you have them rate the activity on a scale, but then you might follow that up with an unstructured response question in which you ask them to explain why they rated that opportunity the way they did.

So here are some examples of unstructured questions. Question number six simply asks each individual teacher for their classroom number. Rather than generating an extremely long list of multiple choice selections here, it's much more straightforward to simply have teachers write or type in their classroom number on their own. And then question seven and eight allow for a little more detail in the responses.

So now it's your tread to stop and reflect. Think of a recent professional development opportunity, and jot down some questions of both types that might help you to get a clear picture of the impact of that professional development opportunity on the teachers in your school.

For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The Additional Resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Creating Survey Questions"

(00:00 - 00:24) Introduction

(00:25 - 01:25) Things to Consider

(01:26 - 05:46) Structured Responses

(05:47 - 09:19) Unstructured Responses

(09:20 - 09:59) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

How to Develop a Questionnaire for Research

This article offers seven simple steps for creating a survey questionnaire that you can follow when developing your survey.

Creating Good Interview and Survey Questions

This resource from Purdue University provides great, easy to follow advice for developing survey questions. Examples are included.