Survey Guidelines and Best Practices

6-steps in conducting a survey

1.What do you need to know from a survey?

  • What questions do you need answered?
  • Is there existing data/information that will answer your questions?
  • What is/are the survey outcomes?
  • Is the survey part of a research project? 
  • Will you need approval from Mohawk College's Research Ethics Board?  Other institutions' Research Ethics Boards?

2. Who are your survey participants?


Post-secondary day programs (PSE)

Continuing Education (CE)


Pre-College programs (e.g., Academic Upgrading, City Schools, Dual Credit, etc.)

Staff and Faculty


Administrative staff

Support staff


PSE graduates/alumni

CE program graduates/alumni

Apprenticeship graduates/alumni

Other Mohawk Stakeholders

Mohawk applicants

Mohawk Board of Governors

Mohawk clinical/practicum/placement site supervisors

Mohawk Program Advisory Boards

Graduates' Employers (internal purposes only)

Do you need a sample or census?

Do you need to survey everyone (census), or is a sample sufficient? 


Random sample - randomly choosing who to survey from the population.  Stratified random sample - randomly choosing who to survey based on characteristics of population, typically demographics.


More information about sampling, including how to determine sample size - Qualtrics - Determining Sample Size

3. Develop questions for a survey

Questionnaire Design Examples and Guidelines

Qualtrics - How to Write Good Questionnaire


Qualtrics - Survey Design Respondents Will Love

Question TypesDartmouth College - Likert Scale Response Options (Word)
Survey Distribution




Focus Groups

Survey Set-upGeneral survey link OR Targeted survey links (participant list)

How are you protecting confidentiality?

Anonymous survey - collecting or using no identifying information


Confidential survey - collecting or using sensitive or identifying information to send out survey invitations, linking survey responses, etc.  Do you need a consent form, personal privacy statements, etc.


Do you have security measures in place to protect confidentiality throughout the survey process?  For example, e-mailing survey responses - encrypt or password protect file; Data Sharing Agreement - transferring data to a third party, etc.

Participation Rate TipsQualtrics - Tools to increase response rates


4. Are you using an incentive?

Questions to Determine Usage of Incentives

Offering incentives to complete surveys can sometimes help to increase participation rates.  The decision to offer an incentive must be made early in the planning process because the offer must be included in the invitation letter and all other communication with potential respondents.  There are also important legal and administrative requirements to offering incentives.  To determine whether an incentive will help, answer the following questions:


Would your survey response rate increase if there was an incentive?


Is the survey going out to a specific group or open to a large group?


What is the survey purpose? 

  1. Gather general feedback on a service
  2. Part of a research project
  3. Re-occuring survey
Incentives Types

Draw for gift card(s), electronics, etc.


Swag, product or cash given to all survey participants

Collecting Personal Information for Incentive (e.g., ballot)It is recommended that you create a "Ballot" Survey that collects personal contact information and is accessed via a survey link in the "Thank you" webpage that is displayed when you submit the survey.  This ensures that any personal information is not linked to your survey responses, maintaining confidentiality and/or anonymity.


5. Administration and communication of your survey

Survey Blackout PeriodsSee re-occuring surveys website; or consult Mohawk's Institutional Research Department (IR)
Communicating to Survey Participants

When communicating to survey participants, remember to include the following:

  1. Who you are and your affiliation with Mohawk (if applicable)
  2. Why you are doing the survey?
  3. How will the survey results impact the participants?
  4. Who will have access to the survey results and in what format (e.g., summarized reports)?
  5. Is the survey confidential and/or anonymous?  Include any legal statements on confidentiality.
  6. If there are incentives: What?  What are participants required to do to receive the incentive?  When and how will they will receive incentive?
  7. How long will it take participants to complete the survey?
  8. When is the last day to provide feedback?
  9. Who to contact if there are any questions or technical issue?
  10. Link to the survey

If you are e-mailing the participants, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) should be followed. 


6. Summarizing and analyzing survey results

  1. Create a summary report in online survey software (if applicable)
  2. Export survey responses to excel or statistical package (e.g., SPSS, SAS, Stata, R, etc.) for analysis. 
  3. Produce a report in word or excel (if required)
  4. Create a presentation (e.g., PowerPoint) (if required)