Hi, I’m Ama Nyame-Mensah. I am a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice. In this post, I will share with you some lessons learned about incorporating demographic variables into surveys or questionnaires.
For many, the most important part of a survey or questionnaire is the demographics section. Not only can demographic data help you describe your target audience, but also it can reveal patterns in the data across certain groups of individuals (e.g., gender, income level). So asking the right demographic questions is crucial.
Lesson Learned #1: Plan ahead
In the survey/questionnaire design phase, consider how you will analyze your data by identifying relevant groups of respondents. This will ensure that you collect the demographic information you need. (Remember: you cannot analyze data you do not have!)
Lesson Learned #2: See what others have done
If you are unsure of what items to include in your demographics section, try searching through AEA’s Publications or Google Scholar for research/evaluations being done in a similar area. Using those sources, you can locate links to specific tools or survey instruments that use demographic questions that you would like to incorporate into your our work.
Lesson Learned #3: Let respondents opt out
Allow respondents the option of opting out of the demographics section in its entirety, or, at the very least, make sure to add a “prefer not to answer” option to all demographic questions. In general, it is good practice to include a “prefer not to answer” choice when asking sensitive questions because it may make the difference between a respondent skipping a single question and discontinuing the survey altogether.
Lesson Learned #4: Make it concise, but complete
I learned one of the best lessons in survey/questionnaire design at my old job. We were in the process of revamping our annual surveys, and a steering committee member suggested that we put all of our demographic questions on one page. Placing all of your demographic questions on one page will not only make your survey “feel” shorter and flow better, but it will also push you to think about which demographic questions are most relevant to your work.
Collecting the right demographic data in the right way can help you uncover meaningful and actionable insights.
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