Survey Best Practices

General Guidance

Here are some great resources and 'Quick Tips' to improve any survey effort at UT Austin. Contact IRRIS for additional guidance or if you would like to partner with us on a survey project.

Sourcing support and expertise.

It typically takes more than one person and access to several resources to successfully execute a survey project. Determine whether there is a team within your department with the time and expertise to support the survey process. If not, plan to rely on another department or external resource to support the effort.

Writing a survey.

Keep the survey short - less than ten minutes in length to reduce survey drop out. Identify your research goals and ensure you are only asking questions that align with these goals. Always ask someone to test your survey for construct validity and functionality.

Choosing a launch date.

Contact IRRIS or a member of the ISC to learn more about what surveys are being administered at UT Austin each semester. This information will help you determine an ideal timeline for your launch. If you are interested in learning about what surveys are already being administered at the university, you can review the ISC inventory.

Identifying your survey population and sample.

Be specific when identifying your ideal population for the survey (e.g., undergrad students seeking degrees and taking courses this semester). Once the population is identified, we strongly encourage sending the survey to a randomized sample of respondents from the population to help the university combat its survey fatigue issue. Qualtrics provides a helpful overview on survey sampling, as well as a sample size calculator to determine how many respondents you need to generalize results to the population.

Launching the survey.

Aim to keep the survey open for only two weeks - you will obtain most of your responses during this window. To enhance your response rate, make sure your survey invites and any subsequent reminders are: Short (about two to three sentences), Personal (include the recipients’ name at the beginning of the email if the survey is not anonymous; have the email be sent from someone the recipients will recognize, and Exciting (acknowledge the survey’s value, offer incentives).

Data gathering and analysis.

With the collection of survey data comes great responsibility. It is your responsibility to protect any information you gather. Always save data gathered for university purposes on a secure server, and follow university guidelines and FERPA guidelines when working with data. Devote proper time to data exploration and document any cleaning and analysis you conduct with the information. It's your responsibility to ensure you can reproduce any analyses reported on in your final data summary.

Data reporting.

Identify the audience for your report and ensure the format and language work well for that audience. Identify the survey response rate and sample representation when reporting on your results. This will demonstrate to the audience the generalizability of your results. Do not report on cell sizes less than five as a means of protecting respondent identity.

How To Write Demographic Questions on a Survey

Are you developing a survey and need to ask about gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other demographics? UT researchers should be very careful with when and how they ask for demographic information on a survey. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to demographic items on a survey. The decisions you make concerning demographic items should be strongly connected to the purpose of your study. The ISC encourages you to consider the below guidelines when deciding whether to ask demographic questions and deciding how to ask them. UT colleagues, please click the link below and login with your eid to access this resource. 


Best Practices for Demographic Survey Items