Considerations

Anonymity versus Confidentiality: If you choose to administer an anonymous survey (via generic links), it cannot be authenticated, and you cannot restrict the responses to one per individual. Nonetheless, for sensitive subject matter, anonymity may yield more honest responses. Most data currently collected within Campus Life and university-wide are considered confidential, rather than anonymous (due to automatic IP address collection). Collecting and authenticating basic identifying information allows longitudinal analyses along demographic characteristics but carries a responsibility to guard sensitive information.

Incentives: Depending on the population and survey objectives, you may want to offer incentives to survey respondents. Any incentives should be positive (i.e., no negative consequences for non-respondents) and relevant to the topic of the survey (i.e., not inducing behavior counteractive to desired programmatic outcomes).

Human Subjects: Any analyzed data that include identifying individual respondents (either by name, email, or other unique personal information) must be kept confidential. You should not conduct a targeted follow-up based on survey results data without explicit permission from the respondent (via a survey item that allows respondents to submit their name and contact information expressly for follow-up with a designated staff member). Doing so is a violation of Institutional Review Board (IRB) policy. Additionally, if data are to be compiled as part of an academic research project, the project will need to undergo IRB approval.

Testing the Survey: If the survey will be sent to a large population (n ≥ 100), you may consider initially administering it to a small subgroup of the population to gauge how respondents will perceive the questions and whether the survey length is appropriate. Note that this would require additional time for planning.

Timing: Be sure to schedule the open/close dates of your survey so that there is minimal overlap with other surveys in terms of administration dates and target population. This will maximize response rates and minimize survey fatigue.

Sample versus Census: When planning a survey, it is important to decide whether it will need to be administered to an entire population (e.g., all WFU seniors) or a sample of the population (100 randomly-chosen WFU seniors). This choice should be informed by how the results will be analyzed. If you are interested in broad measures, such as overall satisfaction, a small sample may suffice; however, if you are interested in analyzing potential differences across groups (e.g., underrepresented versus majority students), then you may need a larger sample or census in order to net enough respondents for analysis.

Small Cell Size: To prevent jeopardizing the privacy of respondents’ answers, do not report the disaggregated results of very small groups. For example, if your intended report would break out responses by race and there are only two respondents from one racial group, their responses should be reported in the aggregate, with those of the other racial groups (or combined with others to form a “person of color” variable). Only report disaggregated results when there are five or more respondents from each group.

Sample Size: The sample size of a survey must be large enough to be representative of the targeted population. For example, if you were interested in the responses of female seniors in a designated program, and you only receive responses from five (out of 50, for example), you could not report with confidence that their responses are representative of all female seniors in the program. (Visit this site to calculate the minimum sample size to be considered representative within a given margin of error.)

Simplicity Is Key: The simpler and shorter a survey, the more likely respondents are to complete the survey and to answer honestly. Longer, more complex surveys often result in respondents’ abandoning the survey mid-way or answering the questions in arbitrary ways. Only ask questions that you need and intend to report.