Hi–Today is Wednesday, not Tuesday…I’m still learning about this technology. Thanks for staying with me.

Today I want to talk about a check list called  The Fantastic Five. (Thank you Amy Germuth for bringing this to my attention.)  This checklist  presents five questions against which to judge any/all survey questions you have written. survey image 3

The five questions are:

1. Can the question be consistently understood?

2. Does the question communicate what constitutes a good answer?

3. Do all respondents have access to the information needed to answer the question?

4. Is the question one which all respondents will be willing to answer?

5. Can the question be consistently communicated to respondents?

“Sure,” you say “…all my survey questions do that.”  Do they really? SurveyQns

Let me explain.

1. When you ask about an experience, think about the focus of the question. Is it specific for what you want? I used the question,  “When were you first elected to office?” and got all manner of answers. I wanted the year elected.  I got months (7 months ago), years (both “2 years ago” and  “in 2006”)), words (at the last election). A more specific question would have been “In what year were you first elected to office?”

2. When I asked the election question above, I did not communicate what constitutes a good answer. I wanted a specific year so that I could calculate how long the respondent had been an elected official. Fortunately, I found this out in a pilot test, so the final question gave me answers I wanted.

3. If you are looking for information that is located on supplemental documents (for example, tax forms), let the respondent know that these documents will be needed to answer your survey. Respondents will guess without having the supporting documentation ready, reducing the reliability of your data.

4. Often, we must ask questions that are of a sensitive nature, which could be seen as a violation of privacy. Using Amy’s example, “Have you ever been tested for HIV?” involves a sensitive subject.  Many people will not want to answer that question because of the implications.  Asking instead, “Have you donated blood in the last 15 years?” gets you the same information without violating privacy.  Red Cross began testing blood for HIV in 1985.

5. This point is especially important with mixed mode surveys (paper and interview for example). Again, being as specific as possible is the key. When asking an open ended question, make sure that the options included cover what you want to know. Also, make sure that the method of administration doesn’t affect the answer you want.

This post was based on a presentation by Amy Germuth, President of EvalWorks, LLC at a Coffee Break webinar sponsored by the American Evaluation Association. The full presentation can be found at:


Dillman's bookThe best source I’ve found for survey development is Don Dillman’s 3rd edition of “Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method” published in 2009 and available from the publisher (Wiley).

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