Developing a Survey Instrument

The development of a proper survey instrument is often the most concerning aspect of assessing a gain in knowledge or change in behaviors and actions of the program participants. The concerns relate to how to design an effective questionnaire that gathers the information you seek, and has a useful response rate and reliable responses. Consideration must be given to the questions posed and the answer categories and scales used, and how to reduce any bias in the survey. The following resources provide information on developing a survey instrument.

Designing Surveys and Questions: Chapter from book Survival Statistics (PDF)
This tutorial by David Walonick, is an on-line except from the book Survival Statistics, written by a former university professor. Good survey design tips and examples.

A Field Guide to Designing Quantitative Instruments to Measure Program Impact (PDF)
This how to guide by Dr. Susan J. Barkman, Purdue University, is an easy to use, step by step guide to determining and developing appropriate survey instruments. 2002.

Designing an Effective Questionnaire (PDF)
This fact sheet by Laura Colisi, Cornell University, discusses evaluation survey design. Good overview with detail. 2006.

Survey Design (PDF)
This fact sheet by Christine Chavez, Loyola Marymount University, highlights five common steps in good survey design and can serve as a guide when designing your own surveys. Good survey design tips and examples.

Example Extension Program Evaluation Tools
This how to guide by Richard L. Poling, University of Arkansas, presents examples of program evaluation tools and scales. Good, useful examples. 2005.

Samples of Surveys & Related Evaluation Tools (conducted via mail, telephone, personal interview & web)
This website by Keith Diem, Rutgers University, offers an array of survey samples and related instruments in conducting evaluations.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Developing Effective Questionnaires and Survey Procedures for Program Evaluation and Research
This fact sheet by Keith Diem, Rutgers University, discusses how to develop effective questionnaires. 2002.

Designing a Survey to Increase Response and Reliability
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, provides tips on laying out survey questions for better response rate and reliable responses. 2002.

Check Your IQ on Survey Question Design
This fact sheet by Janet Bechman, Purdue University, offers a self test/information on survey question design. A quick and simple guide. 2007.

Choosing Appropriate Answer Categories
This fact sheet by Janet Bechman, Purdue University, focuses on choosing survey question answer categories. A quick and simple guide. 2007.

Answer Categories and the Target Audience
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, demonstrates how to select answer categories for surveys. Helpful tips on how to develop and use answer categories. 2001.

How Many Answer Categories Are Correct?
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, offers advice on how to select answer categories for surveys. 2001.

Useful Answer Categories
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, provides examples of useful answer categories for surveys. 2001.

Creating Valid Answer Categories
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, provide tips on how to better, valid answer categories for closed-ended questions. 2002.

Using Standard Phrases in Qualitative Interviews
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, offer strategies to reduce bias and solicit responses when conducting face-to-face and phone interviews. Good examples of how to encourage and clarify responses, limit responses and control an interview. 2003.

Question Order
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, discusses how question order can bias responses. An example that illustrates the need to ask general questions first, then more specific question to reduce biased responses. 2001.

Reduce Bias with Retrospective Questions
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, discusses alternatives to pre and post test survey questions. Helpful tips on how to reduce survey bias using pre and post tests. 2001.

Crafting Questions with Less Bias
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, is on developing less biased yes or no questions. 2001.

Cover Letter for a Survey
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, discusses how to construct a survey cover letter to enhance response rate. Good "do and don't" examples. 2005.

Measuring Intentions
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, discusses how to measure survey recipients intentions. 2002.

A Technique to Measure Opinions, Skills, Intentions, and Behaviors That's Different-Even Fun
This Journal of Extension article by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, The Pennsylvania State University and Ellen Brock, Holmes Correctional Institution, discusses using a step scale to measure changes in opinion, skills, intentions and behaviors. 2000.

Crafting Behavior Questions
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, discusses the use of yes-no responses when crafting behavior evaluation questions. Provides useful alternative to yes-no questions to get data that better meets your purpose for asking the question. 2001.

Measuring Barriers to Change (PDF)
This fact sheet by Nancy Ellen Kiernan, Penn State University, presents how to include survey questions on barriers to change. Helpful tips on how to develop and use surveys to determine why changes may not have occurred. 2001.

Pre- and Post-Testing with More Impact
This Journal of Extension article by Greg LaBarge, Ohio State University, discusses removing the element of guessing by pre-post test respondents. 2007.

Program Evaluation Network User's Guide (PDF)
This guide by Joseph L. Donaldson, University of Tennessee, is specifically designed for using with their internal reporting system, contains useful information on program assessment and evaluation. Access to the PEN system is not possible for those outside the UT system.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences