Item Construction Guidelines

Simple Language

Write in language the participants will easily understand. Avoid internal jargon. Many corporations have abbreviations or acronyms for products and services which are not familiar to customers.

Employees are more likely to respond to survey items if the questions are simple, clear, easy to answer, and personally relevant to them.

Business Communication

Use standard business communication techniques. Write short, simple questions. Be clear and to the point. Avoid errors in spelling, grammar and usage.

Consistent Response Formats

All items in a section of the survey should use the same rating scale. Survey participants may be confused if the responses change from a five point to a seven point scale. Keep the scales in the same direction. For example if a rating of 'Stongly Agree' is used as a response alternative on the first item, it should buse used on subsequent items. Anchors for the responses should be consistent throughout the survey questionnaire. For example:

Agree nor
1. I have the freedom I need to meet customer needs.
2. I know what is expected of me in my job.
3. I am able to balance work priorities with my personal life.
4. The tools and equipment I need to do
my job right are readily available.

Consistent Wording

Use similar phrases for the text of the survey. For example, questions can be set up with a lead phrase which is a phrase that can be used to lead off each question. For example:

My Supervisor...

Agree nor
...makes effective decisions, even when under pressure.
...encourages me to take on greater responsibility. in a way that makes others want to work with her/him.
...encourages teamwork and collaboration.


It is important to let the respondent know what to do on any particular question; however, it is just as important to avoid complicated directions. Make the survey as easy as possible for your respondents by using phrases such as 'Mark all that apply,' and 'Mark only one.' Avoid asking them to calculate anything, such as percentages, and try to avoid the use of skip patterns.

Pilot Testing: No. This doesn't involve flying an airplane. The questionnaire should be tested (known as Pilot Testing) to identify weaknesses and potential difficulties.

Fixed Alternatives

Use closed rather than open-ended questions wherever possible. Then at least the context is the same for all respondents. However, the pattern of responses for a closed question is critically dependent on the answer set presented; the inclusion of "other" will not compensate for the omission of an important answer, and if an unimportant answer is included, its importance is likely to be over estimated.

Things to Avoid When Constructing Items

Leading Questions

Avoid writing questions that lead to specific responses. Avoid influencing the survey participant with leading questions. For example, the question, "How would you rate the progressive compensation policies of our company?", may lead the employee to respond that they are satisfied (the question uses the phrase 'progressive' in the item stem). Biased questions can lead to incorrect responses, and participants may be turned off by a leading question, particularly if they disagree with the subject of the item.

More than one question at a time

This is known as asking a 'double barreled' question. A typical double barreled question: "Sales reps are polite and responsive." While the sales reps may be polite they may not be responsive, or vice versa. The respondent will be forced to rate one attribute differently from their true feelings. Consequently, data interpretation will be questionable. Another example of this type of question is: "My supervisor is trustworthy and holds employees accountable for their actions."

Use of word "And"

The word 'and' should alert you to the possibility of a double barreled question.

Lengthy questions

A long question may be justified, however, ask yourself the following questions: Does it require a great deal of explanation? Is the topic unfamiliar? Is it a double barreled question? Determine whether you can clarify the item and make it more concise, or whether the item should be omitted and approached in a focus group or interview setting.


Ranking and percentage questions, in particular, may be difficult and time consuming for respondents. Although these questions are appropriate for some surveys, we encourage you to carefully consider your respondent population to determine whether this type of question is appropriate. For example, consider which of the two questions below will be easier for respondents to answer.

Use of word "If"

The word 'if' should alert you to potentially confusing directions. If you need to use a skip pattern, be sure your questions are clearly numbered so you can direct respondents properly.

Unfamiliar or Difficult Words

Avoid using terms that only a limited number of employees would understand: BPR, management capital, over development, etc.

Many information-carrying words in one question

Words that sound like something else (partial/impartial)

Broad concepts (e.g., pay, management, training)

What do you think of management? The term "management" might mean different things to different employees. It is best to try to be as specific as possible when asking employees to give their opinions about a facet of the organization.

Questions that call for a lot of respondent effort