3.2.3 Building Survey Questions

Many surveys include a mix of questions that measure both quantitative and qualitative data. Questions on a survey are categorized in the following way:

1. Structured Questions:

Structured questions seek answers that can be quantified and have a set number of answer options for the reader such as ones that capture demographic information, ratings or rankings. Structured questions can also be used to determine levels of knowledge on a particular issue.

Sample Questions and Tips:

Please indicate your current living arrangements:
I live on campus residence
I live with roommates off campus
I live alone off campus
I live with family off campus

Please rank your level of satisfaction with the education seminar on student anxiety:
Unsatisfied (1)   Somewhat Satisfied (2)   Satisfied (3)   Very Satisfied (4)

As a student, I have coped with the following challenges:
(check all that apply)
Suicidal thoughts

When presenting options for people to answer it is important that each option be distinct and not overlap. For example, if one of the options in the first sample question was ‘I live off campus with roommates or family’ it would be difficult to determine if the student lives with family or with roommates, making your data unclear. In the example given, choose one or the other, or break it out into 2 questions to be clear.

Another example is asking “The referrals and the counselling I received were helpful for me” is actually asking about 2 things – referrals and the counselling service. They should be broken out into 2 separate questions:

“The referrals I received were helpful for me.”
“The counselling I received was helpful for me.”

Including an ‘other’ option allows you to gather valuable data you might not anticipate. For example:

The following services have been the most useful to me:
Mood Walks
Crisis Supports
Information on services in the community
Other (please specify):                                           

Using Likert Scales
Likert scales allow survey respondents to agree or disagree on a series of statements. An example of a Likert Scale question is:

Strongly Disagree (SD) Disagree (D) Agree (A) Strongly Agree (SA)
  1. I feel I have more tools to cope with my stress than before I started counselling.
  1. I have made a new connection that I didn’t have before I started this psychosocial group


Some tips when creating Likert Scales:

  • Ask about one thing only for each statement (don’t ask about whether or not services were helpful or friendly, but choose one or the other)
  • Do not use absolutes like “always” or never in your statements, as it is difficult to agree or disagree all the time or none of the time
2. Open-Ended Questions:

Open-ended questions provide a blank space for the reader to answer the question how they choose. These questions often capture qualitative information that can be very useful in supporting your learning about the effectiveness of your services. . However, they should be used sparingly! If there are too many open-ended questions in a survey, many people will skip them altogether, as they can take too much time.

Sample Questions and Tips:

Please tell us about your experience accessing the Accessibility Office’s peer counseling service?

What do you find useful about the peer counselling service? If you do not find this service useful, please tell us why.

Make the question manageable for people by asking them to provide just one example or one story. It increases the chances they will fill it out!

3. Demographic Data Questions

You may also want to collect demographic data as part of your survey. It is suggested that you include it at the end of the survey, as sometimes when it is in the beginning, people get tired and don’t complete the actual questions you want them to answer!

Other key points about asking demographic questions:

  • Statistics Canada is an important reference source for you to look at when considering asking demographic questions, especially if you want to compare your respondents to the broader population – https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/subjects/index?MM=1
  • Do not ask for people’s identifying information unless you absolutely have to – i.e., you want to be in touch with them in the future to offer services, information, to participate in future or follow-up evaluations, etc.
  • Only ask about the demographic characteristics that really matter to your work – for example, in a student counselling centre, asking about age, gender, race and living situation may matter, as they all can impact on mental health and addictions.
  • Remember that asking demographic questions is the areas that most survey respondents feel reluctant to answer, so choose carefully!

Most post-secondary education campuses will likely gather data against the Canadian census categories but it can be a good idea to think about how to disaggregate this data. Disaggregating data refers to further breaking down data by categories such as gender, age, race, sexual orientation, geographic location, etc. While collecting or organizing data according to sensitive categories may be uncomfortable, it can have considerable value and is encouraged by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Disaggregating data can help you determine if different student populations are having different experiences with your program or services in turn informing the development of equitable and inclusive services.

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