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Designing Quality Survey Questions - the book!

Surveys are a cornerstone of social and behavioral research, and with the use of web-based tools, surveys have become an easy and inexpensive means of gathering data. But how researchers ask a question can dramatically influence the answers they receive.

Designing Quality Survey Questions shows readers how to craft high quality, precisely-worded survey questions that will elicit rich, nuanced, and ultimately useful data to help answer their research or evaluation questions. The text addresses challenges such as language preferences for standard demographic questions (e.g. How to ask about gender), creative question design to keep respondents engaged and avoid survey fatigue, web-based survey formats, culturally-responsive survey design, and factors that influence survey responses (memory, social desirability, etc.). Numerous examples of questions illustrate each identified principle of question construction.

What's in the book?

The Checklist for Quality Question Design is a key feature of the text. It’s a comprehensive question design assessment tool that can be used to reflect on the quality of draft survey questions. It’s a handy summary of the guidance outlined in the text and intended to support students and practitioners alike as they compose surveys.



Additional features


Stories From the Field provide even more real-world experiences for the reader collected from practitioners who share lessons learned about survey design.


Real-World Questions are examples of poorly constructed questions and inappropriate or inadequate response options and scales culled from surveys we have taken over the years.


Mini-Interviews with expert practitioners highlight key survey design topics.


Design Details focus the reader on especially salient topics in the design process.

The book also includes:

  • A design thinking framework that helps researchers understand and empathize with potential respondents and to build and test survey prototypes before administering surveys.
  • Direct guidance on potentially difficult aspects of survey writing, including crafting clear question stems and appropriate response options, working with sensitive question types, and understanding how question wording can influence response, address considerations for writing and administering surveys.
  • Design Drills exercises that challenge the reader and support application of the information included.
  • Discussion Questions designed for group discussion or individual reflection on the content included.
  • Extended Learning lists that suggest additional readings for further study

What are others saying?

“Three cheers for…”

The strong recommendation to only ask questions you have a clear plan to use, along with solid recommendations on what questions to cut or consolidate. Yes please! Don’t ask about my gender if you don’t need that information. And if you do, this book has thoughtfully addressed how to word survey questions related to sensitive topics like race, ethnicity, gender, income, and religion. We did not address this enough when I was in grad school.

The few times open-ended questions make sense and how to introduce them so people will actually fill them out. Whether to have a midpoint in your Likert scale (I’m team NO). How better questions can help us avoid a “don’t know” response. Clear, detailed, and realistic discussion of what respondents tend to think when presented with common survey issues. Survey design considerations for respondents who have low-vision or blindness. Fun ways to encourage responses.

And the narrative is accompanied by smile-worthy cartoons from the one and only, Chris Lysy, as well as adorable icons that make me jealous I didn’t have those in my book.

I’m cheering so hard because anyone who runs in the survey world needs to read and integrate this stuff and the other good ideas in this book.

-Stephanie Evergreen, review on Evergreen Data blog

“The Best of 2018!”

Designing Quality Survey Questions, by Sheila B. Robinson and Kimberly Firth Leonard, is a great read for evaluators and anyone interested in survey instrument design. The value of this manual lies in its ability to “show readers how to craft high quality, precisely-worded survey questions that will elicit rich, nuanced, and ultimately useful data to help answer their research or evaluation questions.” Go forth and survey!

Innovation Network, December 2018 newsletter

“BetterEvaluation 2018 Holiday Reading List”

So, true story: I had a tight deadline to re-vamp an evaluation client’s questionnaire, but I also wanted to give myself a quick refresher on survey design by reading this book. I only had a couple of hours while my young daughter was at an event so I sat in my car in the parking lot and read Chapters 4 & 5.

Wow. It was well-written, easy to read, to-the-point, and had lots of great examples. It was such a worthwhile use of my time. I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of it.

-Kylie Hutchinson, Community Solutions Planning & Evaluation, recommendation appearing on Better Evaluation

Sheila and Kim at their first book signing at the American Evaluation Association conference in 2018 (on Halloween)

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