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Survey Design Checklist

Whether you're looking to improve an existing survey instrument or create a new one, this survey design checklist—adapted from Dr. Hunter Gehlbach's research-backed approach—will ensure that you're gathering valid and reliable feedback from students, families, and/or staff.

This checklist is for researchers and educators who are either choosing a pre-existing survey to use or developing their own instrument. The goal of this checklist is to help survey designers and consumers avoid the biggest sources of measurement error. The lists are not comprehensive; rather, we hope they help mitigate the largest problems with minimal effort.

Survey Design Checklist


It is also worth noting that, while this survey design checklist can facilitate item-writing and survey administration, it does not replace the larger research process involved in developing a survey instrument. This checklist does not help investigators address “what do we want to learn?”, “is a survey the right data collection instrument?”, “which constructs/concepts do we want to assess?”, and other critical, preliminary conversations that a research team will need to have. In addition, this checklist should not be viewed as a replacement for a thorough process to design survey scales (e.g., Gehlbach & Brinkworth, 2011).

For items and response options, does your survey...

  • Use scales rather than single items when possible?
  • Make sure every item applies to every respondent?
  • Avoid item formats consisting of statements and agree/disagree response options?
  • Use questions and emphasize your focus in your response options?
  • Ask one item at a time (thereby avoiding multi-barreled items)?
  • Use positive language?
  • Avoid “reverse-scored” items?
  • Choose item formats wisely so that they answer the question you have?
  • Balance the visual, numeric, and conceptual mid-point of the response options?

For formatting and ordering your survey, have you....

  • Asked the more important items earlier in the survey?
  • Labeled all response options?
  • Used only verbal labels?
  • Visually separated “don’t know” and “N/A” response options (e.g., an “I don’t know” or “N/A” category)?
  • Used only one row or only one column for your response options?
  • Ensured that the visual layout of your survey is consistent?
  • Placed sensitive questions (e.g., demographics) later in your survey?   

To maximize responses, have you...

  • Communicated with your respondents multiple times?
  • Personalized all correspondences and the survey itself as much as possible?
  • Explained how the benefits of taking your survey outweigh the costs?
  • Presented the survey as a conversation with your respondents?
  • Aligned the stated purpose of your survey with the first item on your survey?
  • Strategically and thoughtfully scheduled follow-up communications with respondents? 

A quick tally of the number of "yes" answers should help you compare the relative strengths of different surveys and/or different approaches to administering a survey.

Download this checklist as a PDF.

Topic(s): Research , Popular

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