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Survey Says!

Tips on survey research from IC's Office of Institutional Research

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Posted by Govind Acharya at 2:59PM   |  1 comment

On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being 'leave me alone' to 5 being 'make this stop', rate how tired are students with being asked to surveys constantly? 

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) and various academic studies have shown that decreased response rates of students is highly correlated with the number of surveys students are being asked to do. Ithaca College is no exception, with students regularly bombarded with requests to do surveys through links on Intercom, by email and even in person. The result is often poor data for the researcher and survey fatigue on the part of students. 

Researchers need to assess and may feel that surveys are a way to provide one piece of their assessment puzzle. But surveys aren't always needed and may in fact not be of benefit. There are alternatives that would provide anecdotal data that most surveys are used for and actually add much more value to the evaluators. 

Here are a few ways researchers at IC could help to combat survey fatigue and enrich their own assessments:

  1. Loosely structured interviews: These can be in-person or on the phone through a focus group or one-on-one interaction. This is not as difficult as it seems because a smaller pool of respondents would be required. The richness of the qualitative data cannot be underestimated.
  2. Don't ask questions that aren't going to lead to action: Evaluations should not include questions that won't be used for action or follow through. In other words, don’t ask questions that aren’t going to lead to some result.
  3. Make it relevant: Students should have a stake in the results by providing a summary of results or having a small group of respondents lead discussions to disseminate the results. There are a variety of ways to do this, but studies have shown that students will provide better responses if they are engaged in the evaluation process.
  4. Pilot test the survey: Make sure all of the wrinkles are ironed out before launching the survey. Pilot testers will catch things that even the most expert survey researchers miss because they are coming to the survey fresh.
  5. Add questions to another survey: By fostering communication between units on campus, we can limit the number of surveys sent to students. One longer survey is much better than 5 short surveys.

The Office of Institutional Research is here to help for all your assessment needs, including providing suggestions on the best approach for your unit. We also have a survey clearinghouse that will provide a centralized place for your survey to foster sharing across campus. Contact us at or 4-3164. 

1 Comment

Thanks for this great work! These blogs are very useful. Hope to start great dialogs.

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