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Guidelines for Writing Good Questions
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General advice
Try to ask questions only directly related to what you are evaluating and not just for the sake of it. A few focused questions are much more useful than a collection of general ones.

Make sure that the student knows how you expect them to respond to a question e.g. do they have to tick/cross underline/write their own answer etc.

Avoid double-barrelled questions, as students might want to respond differently to each part e.g. 'How did you feel about using packages A and B?'

Try to keep the language simple and easy to understand as students will often miss out a question which they don't understand.

Make sure that your questions aren't ambiguous and open to different personal interpretations e.g. a question like 'Do you prefer tutorials or simulations?' is dependant on what a student perceives as being a 'tutorial' and a 'simulation'. Including a definition of each would increase the question's clarity.

Try to keep the questions short, as long questions can sometimes be confusing.

Try to provide guidance in the length of answer you would like the student to give and how long it might take them to complete all the questions.

Avoid questions with obvious answers or ones which are likely to elicit the same answer from all students or ones fishing for compliments e.g. 'How do you rate this course?' 'brilliant', 'marvellous' or 'best ever'.

Start by asking your more straightforward questions and then work through to those requiring longer answers.

Vary the question formats in order to encourage students to think about each of their responses and not just go through ticking 'agree' boxes.

Avoid yes/no questions unless you want a yes/no answer.

Avoid 'Why? questions or strongly evocative questions which might make a student defensive.

Group questions investigating similar themes together, perhaps using a header.

Fixed response questions
Try to balance your order and use of negative and positive statements.

Make sure that your response options are mutually exclusive and don't overlap.

Try not to use negative wording in question statements as this can often lead to double negatives when added to several response options.

Try to put your responses into a logical order if one exists - this enables a student to make more of a relative judgement.

Try to make sure you include the full range of possible answers. The use of 'Other' and 'Please specify' as an option gives a student an opportunity to add in their own response.

Watch if you use 'don't know' as a description for the midpoint to your scale. This could indicate either that they don't understand the question or that they just don't want to state an opinion. To avoid misinterpretations you can always suggest at the top of the page that students miss out any questions they don't understand.

Watch the phrasing of responses given in the form of an attitudinal scale. It can often be difficult to provide a well balanced range of descriptive words in an attitudinal scale. A Likert scale using numbers or points on a scale between phrases like 'strongly agree' and 'strongly disagree' can give a better range of options. Alternatively, instead of limiting their options, you might ask the students to indicate their response by placing a cross on a line in the appropriate position between opposite opinions.

Providing a Likert scale with an even number of options can encourage students to make a decision, but sometimes can result in students just adding in a midpoint option themselves.

Jen Harvey
LTDI Implementation Consultant,
Heriot-Watt University.

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Last modified: 25 March 1999.