Evaluate programs



A survey is an ordered series of questions or statements assessing attitudes, behaviors, or personal characteristics that is administered to individuals in a systematic manner. Surveys may be administered in a variety of mediums (e.g., paper, oral, electronic) using various delivery methods (e.g., face-to-face, telephone, mail, Internet).

Types of surveys

With the growth of the Internet and e-mail, electronic surveys are becoming more widely used. They can be distributed by paper, as e-mail messages, or posted as forms on the Internet. Both paper and electronic surveys have strengths and weaknesses.

Comparison of paper and electronic surveys

Comparison of electronic survey tools

Suggested uses of surveys

Limitations of surveys

Resource requirements

A moderate level of knowledge about survey design and question writing is required unless you are using previously validated questions or surveys. You should also understand how to use and interpret basic statistics (e.g. frequencies, means, weighting), and have experience or training in constructing and using spreadsheets databases (for very large classes or surveys). Data entry may be time consuming, requiring additional staff, although using scanable answer sheets or an electronic survey tool will greatly reduce the knowledge, training, and time required to enter and analyze survey responses. Click here for details about the time and resources required for conducting all types of surveys.

Plan your survey

STEP 1. Describe the context

Include the age, majors, educational background, motivation level, and skill levels of students/clients. Also consider central goals of the program, your ability to implement changes, and how the organizational context impacts your program. A worksheet is available to help you document your program context.

STEP 2. Identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions

Identify what is most essential for clients, program staff, and any organizational priorities that impact your program. Central questions, informed by these needs, specify what you want to learn from an evaluation. A worksheet is available to help you identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions.

STEP 3. Determine the purpose of the survey

A survey should have a clear purpose and focus. Avoid the temptation of asking too many questions in a single survey or surveying clients "just to see what's going on." Using your central questions as a guide, specify how your survey will help you gain insight, change program practices, or measure the effects of a change you have implemented. A worksheet is available to help you develop and refine your study’s purposes.

STEP 4. Determine how you will use the results

How you intend to use results should also guide the content of your survey. If you will not use responses to a survey question to guide program content, leave the question out. A worksheet is available to help exemplify how to use results after determining the purpose of a study.

STEP 5. Develop your assessment plan

Decide when you will survey your clients and schedule it into your program schedule. If you gather information using other assessment methods, be sure to include them in your plan and schedule them at different times.

Create the survey

Write survey questions

Writing good survey questions is crucial to avoid compromising the validity of responses and limiting your ability to answer research questions. Rewrite questions until they are clear and succinct. [more]

Determine question type

The information you want to obtain and how you plan to use it should dictate the question type or response scale you choose.

[more about question types]
[more about response scales]

Organize and format the survey

The survey format is very important because a poorly organized survey may confuse respondents and lead them to skip questions or not complete the survey. [more]

Conduct pilot testing

Test the survey on a small sample of individuals that resembles your target sample (but does not include it) to check if the questions are answered as you intended and how long it takes to complete the survey. Revise questions as necessary before administering them to the study sample.

Additional information

Babbie, E.R. (1973). Survey research methods. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Bordens, K.S. and Abbott, B.B. (1996). Research Design and Methods: A Process Approach. 3rd ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Punch, K. F. (2003). Survey research: The basics. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

SurveyMonkey. (2010). Smart Survey Design. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from: http://s3.amazonaws.com/SurveyMonkeyFiles/SmartSurvey.pdf

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
Copyright © 2007, The University of Texas at Austin