10 Tips for Creating Effective Surveys

Surveys can be a powerful tool for continuous feedback from students and scholars. Surveys are a wonderful way to get quick feedback from a broad audience. You should always complement surveys with other, more personal and direct, forms of feedback, such as asking students or scholar direct questions over casual conversations. 

I have created hundreds of surveys that have been completed by thousands of students and scholars. Below I share some of what I have learned along the way.

Identify the primary purpose

First things first, figure out what you’re really after with your survey. Everything from the survey flow to the design of each question can change based on the purpose of the survey. Do not try to accomplish too much with one survey. 

Keep your survey unbiased–avoid leading questions

Keep your questions neutral. Nobody likes feeling manipulated, and biased responses don’t help you improve. Instead of asking, “Rate your experience with our helpful advisors.” try “How would you describe your latest interaction with a student advisor?”

One question at a Time, Please

Questions that address more than one issue can confuse respondents and dilute the clarity of responses. Break down complex inquiries into simpler, specific questions to get precise insights.

Example: How would you describe your experience before and after arriving on campus?

Better example: “Did you receive the pre-arrival information you needed to feel prepared to come to campus?” and “How would you describe your overall experience in your first month on campus?”

Strategic Use of Open-Ended Questions

Begin with closed-ended questions (such as multiple choice) and keep open-ended questions to a minimum, usually 2-3 questions. Using open-ended questions towards the end of the survey allows respondents to offer additional insight that makes survey data more personal, digestible, and actionable.

Invite opportunities for follow-Up

Surveys can be a powerful tool for understanding macro trends, but it can be easy to miss nuanced personal experiences. Allowing respondents to provide contact information allows you to follow up when appropriate to better understand their responses. Surveys should be one of many tools for understanding experiences and perspectives.

Ask colleagues to review your survey

This is more than just a spellcheck, discuss the purpose of the survey and ask if they believe it will accomplish that purpose.

Pilot your survey

Collect 5-10 authentic responses before distributing your survey more broadly. The way that the initial responses come in can highlight unforeseen interpretations of questions, allowing for adjustments to improve clarity and effectiveness. 

Use NPS (Net Promoter Scores)

NPS can tell you a lot about how people feel about your services. You can get incredibly high level yet actionable feedback by asking “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend [service provided] to a friend or colleague?” and following that closed-ended question with the open-ended question, “Please explain your response.” 

If you care to improve the student or scholar experience, the first place to start is understanding your NPS. 

Survey Tools That Won’t Break the Bank

Most universities have institutional accounts with Qualtrics. But if you don’t have access or if you’ve never used it before, no worries. It’s overkill anyway. Survey Monkey and Google Forms work great. 

Share What You Learn

Found something interesting? Help the broader international education community improve by posting on listservs, participating in communities, or presenting webinars. 

Remember, the goal is to get the real story from your students and scholars. With a bit of care and these tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be gathering insights that can really make a difference.

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