Use a survey to collect general information from a large group of people. Surveys tend to be more quantitative than qualitative. This page discusses the benefits of surveys, the limitations, the types, and the “3 C’s”  when creating surveys.


As a WRIT 250 student, a survey is one of the more efficient ways of getting a large amount of data in a relatively short amount of time. If your research question is “What do [insert demographic] think/know about [insert idea, subject, event]?” then probably a survey is a great place to start. For example: “Do college students agree that a healthy lifestyle positively affects academic performance?” or “How knowledgeable are elementary school teachers on bullying-prevention strategies?” With the right questions and sample, you can get a good idea on how people of a certain population perceive the subject/idea you are researching.


Any research method you choose will have limitations. A common limitation to surveys is the lack of “follow-up” questions. For example, if you have 50 students take your survey and it’s completely anonymous, it will be extremely difficult to follow-up with the subjects and ask more questions. On a related note, most surveys are multiple choice and/or short answer, so the subject only has so much “space” to express their opinions/thoughts on the matter. If you are wanting more in-depth opinions/thoughts on a subject, you will need to either format your survey to allow for that or do an interview instead.

Another limitation to consider is that your data will be self-reported, meaning that you have to rely on your subjects’ answers. Several factors could influence your subjects’ responses, either consciously or subconsciously, that may not be completely honest. Common reasons for unreliable data include your subjects wanting to portray themselves in a more positive light, your subjects may assume the “point” of the study and thus want the point to go their way even if their answers are not entirely honest, your subjects are embarrassed to reveal specifics about their life, or your subjects may not be aware of their own biases on certain subjects.

Question Types

Here are a few types of questions you can use:

Multiple-Choice Questions. This is a common type of question on surveys. Ask a question and/or give a statement, and then the respondent has to choose from a list of answers. If the answer is based on opinion or preference (e.g., favorite types of music), it is best to give an “Other” answer option and a fill in the blank space.

Matrix Questions. Along with multiple choice questions, there are matrix questions that use Likert-type scales. These are common in many social and applied science disciplines. Usually, the researcher gives one or more statements or questions (e.g., “I enjoy listening to Beethoven,” “I enjoy listening to Mozart,” etc.) and then the answers are in a Likert-type scale (e.g., Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither Agree Nor Disagree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree).

Short Answers. This is where qualitative and quantitative methods mix. The researcher gives either a closed-ended question (e.g., “Did you enjoy Star Wars?”) or an open-ended question (e.g. “Did you enjoy Star Wars? Why or why not?”) If the survey is on a piece of paper, the respondent has a finite space to answer. If the survey is online, most online surveys let the researcher choose the character limit for the text box response.

3-Cs: Clear, Consistent, & Concise

You want the survey and the responses to the survey to be clear, consistent, and concise. This is not only important for logistics (e.g., the subjects understanding the question, having clear data, etc.), but it is also important from an ethical standpoint. Whom you send the survey to, what types of questions you ask, and what kinds of answer-choices you give can skew your data one way or another, and knowingly doing this can be seen as unethical.

Be Clear.

Be as clear and straightforward as possible for your subjects. Clarity is not only helpful for your respondents but is also helpful for you as well in understanding your data. Below are examples of unclear questions.

Double-Barreled Questions. Avoid combination questions. The respondent may have a certain opinion for one part of the question, but a completely different opinion for the other. It is best to separate these, then, into two questions.


  • Unclear: The food & service was great. Agree or Disagree?
  • Clarified: The food was great. Agree or Disagree? The service was great. Agree or Disagree?

Double Negative Questions. While researchers may easily understand the questions they are asking, a double-negative question can be confusing for respondents. Try to avoid negative statements as much as possible.


  • Unclear: I am not happy when my food is not hot. Agree or Disagree.
  • Clarified: I am annoyed when my food is cold. Agree or Disagree.

Biased/Leading Questions/Answers. In this case, sometimes it might be too “clear” what the researcher wants. You must be aware of your own biases and make sure that you are not leading your respondent. When leading questions are put into surveys or interviews, the researcher, at best, is viewed as presumptuous; at worst, purposely misleading.


  • Unclear: Why do you love this restaurant? Fun/Friendly/Delicious
  • Clarified: What do you like about this restaurant? Fun/Friendly/Delicious/Other/Do not like this restaurant/No opinion

Ambiguous Terms. Be specific in your terms, both in the question and answer options. Choices such as “seldom,” “rarely,” “some of the time,” etc. can be interpreted differently depending on the subject.


  • Unclear: Pick the answer that best describes how often you come here: Always/More than often/Often/Most of the time/Sometimes/Seldom/Rarely/Never.
  • Clarified: Pick the answer that best describes how often you come here: Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Every few months/Once a Year/First time/Other.

Be Consistent.

Consistency not only helps your subjects understand the questions/answers but also will help you as a researcher when looking at your data and finding patterns.

Consistent Terms. While having clear terms, you need to also have consistent terms throughout.

Inconsistent Example:

Q#1 Have you injured your kneecap before?
Q#2 If so, when did you hurt your patella?

Consistent Example:

Q#1 Have you injured your patella (kneecap) before?
Q#2 If so, when did you hurt your patella?

Consistent Order of Answer Choices. Along with consistent terms, the order of the answers need to be consistent as well.

Inconsistent Example:

Q#1 Parking on campus is convenient.
Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither Agree Nor Disagree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree
Q#2 Parking downtown is convenient.
Strongly Disagree/Disagree/Neither Agree Nor Disagree/Agree/Strongly Agree

Consistent Example:

Q#1 Parking on campus is convenient.
Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither Agree Nor Disagree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree
Q#2 Parking downtown is convenient.
Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither Agree Nor Disagree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree

Be Concise.

From your questions to the survey as a whole, the more concise you can be, the clearer your survey will be to your respondents—which means you may even get more responses. Remember that your subjects are doing you a favor by taking time out of their day to take your survey.

Unnecessary/Irrelevant Questions. For example, if you want to know what students think about parking on campus, asking them what their major is might be unnecessary. Be direct and to the point. What do you want to know, what do you want to know from your subjects, and what questions help you get those answers?

Text-Heavy Questions. Sometimes giving subjects a hypothetical scenario might be needed, but if you have 10 questions that are more than a paragraph each, your subjects may “check-out.”

Survey Fatigue. This is a known phenomena where the subject becomes tired/bored (i.e. fatigued) with questions. Respondents will either not finish the quiz or will mark answers without even reading the questions.

Repetition. Don’t ask your subjects “Do you park on campus?” and then “How often do you park on campus?; only ask “How often do you park on campus?” with the answer option of “I don’t park on campus.” Respondents may get frustrated if they feel they’ve already answered the question.

Lengthy Surveys. Each survey/research question is different, so there is no “magic” number for how many questions your survey should have. However, if you are just asking the “general public” about an issue, shorter will more than likely be better. A 5-question survey about parking on campus will likely yield more data (and probably more applicable data) than a 30-question survey.