Designing Better Surveys: Avoiding Bias


We have all had experiences in the past of filling out surveys that ask us leading or biased
questions, trying to shoehorn our responses to fit the survey’s desired outcome. However, course evaluation surveys are intended to provide valuable and constructive feedback to instructors and administrators in order to improve their courses for future students, but when surveys ask questions that come across as leading or biased, the results can be counter-productive. If you have been tasked with designing a course evaluation survey, here are some tips on how to ask questions that will avoid these problem areas.

Identifying goals

Start by identifying the overall goals for the survey. It is important to identify the goal in
order to ensure that you’re asking the correct questions to gather the most concise and
constructive data you hope to achieve. This will help remind yourself to avoid questions that are
biased, since you have a greater understanding and fresh reminder of the information you are

Stay as neutral as possible

Write each question with a neutral tone. When phrasing your evaluation questions, be
sure to remove any personal or subjective opinions. For example, instead of asking “Do you
think the instructor was too strict?”, ask something along the lines of, “How would you rate the
instructor’s discipline in this class?” This will help ensure that the respondent is not influenced
by the question’s language.

Use a rating scale

Utilize a rating scale. Scales ranging from five to seven points help minimize bias when
respondents are evaluating their instructors or courses. This can also provide opportunities for
respondents to provide more detailed and valuable feedback to the survey’s creators through
options such as follow-up questions.

Open-ended questions vs leading questions

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are valuable for receiving detailed
feedback from respondents which can help inform the survey’s creators on their own
improvement areas. Additionally, avoid lead-ins or writing the answers into open-ended
questions to greatly enhance the likeliness of honest feedback from respondents.


The final tip is to give respondents an option to provide additional feedback outside the
survey’s direct questions. Often times this can be done by adding a final comment box at the
end of a survey prompting respondents to type in any further feedback they have on the course,
instructor, or other related topics. This is one last chance to allow respondents to provide you
with their open and honest advice or insight and perhaps one of the best methods to avoid the
bias of the creator from leaking into the evaluation and tainting the data.

By following these simple tips, you can avoid creating surveys that contain leading or biased
questions and ensure you’ll receive the most valuable data for improving your courses or
performance as an instructor for future students.

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