Write survey items to represent the content areas of the construct specification
1. The item stem is the question or stimulus that is presented to participants which elicits a response.
2. The response set constitutes the slate or subjective continuum that participants use to respond to the question or stimulus.
General tips for writing survey items
2. A good rule of thumb is to write TWICE as many items as you think you will need to cover all of the content areas in the construct specification. The underlying statistical and psychometric reasoning associated with creating surveys requires many observations to yield reliable and valid inferences. With that being said, it is also important not to write spurious or "fishing" questions that are not grounded in the literature.
3. The items should be written in general language utilized within the targeted population. If the survey is being given to the general population, use third-grade reading level language. Define or operationalize any complex terminology used in the survey. And, of course, write culturally appropriate questions and response sets.
4. Again, each item should cover only ONE topic. When an item presents several different questions or stimuli, respondents cannot be sure which one the respondent is responding to in the survey. This is known as "double-barreling" an item.
5. Avoid using language that biases items in either a positive or negative fashion. Also, use the same tense in all items. If at all possible, use indirect language that will allow for varied responses across the population of interest.
6. Researchers must have a working mastery of the literature area so that they can write appropriate questions that will effectively assess the construct and its content areas. This mastery will allow for researchers to state your items in relative terms reflecting the literature and population of interest.
7. Give instructions for each section of a survey that uses different styles of response sets. Researchers may surmise a logical flow from using Likert scales in one section of a survey and then switching to checking boxes in another section, but respondents may not be able to make the same "leap." It is also pertinent to remind participants what response set is being used on the page. Truncated instructions can also be included at the top of each page as needed. Finally, if there are multiple pages in the survey, put a reminder at the bottom that tells the respondent to "turn the page over" or "continue to the next page."
8. Include a "not appropriate," "I don't know," "neutral," or "choose not to answer" option as needed within the context of the construct and research question. Interesting serendipitous findings can be yielded when accounting for this unique variance within a population.
9. Items can be written in the form of statements that act as catalysts for eliciting a response from participants. Participants then give a subjective rating related to the statement in a response set. Items can also be written in a contextual or situational manner. Lastly, some items should be written to assess the frequency, duration, and intensity of the construct. These are contexts that are easily applicable and interpretable when conducting survey research.
10. Choose a cognitive, emotional, situational, or perceptual context to frame the item stems. Use words and phrases that will act as catalysts for realistic reactions from respondents:
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