Designing Effective Online Surveys: A Short Course

A 4-Day Livestream Seminar Taught by Andrew Miles, Ph.D.

Download Sample Course Slides

The Internet has revolutionized survey research. Web-based surveys are now used in many disciplines, and for good reason. Compared to traditional paper-and-pencil and face-to-face modes of data collection, they make it easy to randomize question order, skip irrelevant questions, include rich multimedia content, and adapt the survey experience based on respondent input. Add to this a wide range of question types and unparalleled ease of distribution, and it is easy to see why web-based surveys have become so popular.

But the Internet doesn’t just make it easy to program surveys: it also gives unparalleled access to a vast reservoir of potential research participants. With the help of third-party web panels or crowdsourcing websites, researchers can recruit respondents and complete data collection in a matter of days, sometimes hours. Fielding surveys online is also inexpensive, which makes it possible to obtain large samples even for researchers on a budget.

Online surveys are not a panacea, however. Web-based surveys make use of digital technologies that differ in marked ways from other survey modes, raising the question of how the mode of data collection influences results. Web surveys can also be completed on both computers and mobile devices, a fact which comes with its own set of possibilities and pitfalls. And respondents recruited online are generally far from representative of most populations.

This course provides a practical introduction to designing effective web surveys and working with online respondents. Particular attention is given to how choices made at the questionnaire-writing and web-design stages affect response rates and data quality, with an emphasis on highlighting actionable design strategies. We also delve deeply into the advantages and disadvantages of using online samples and evaluate design-based and post-hoc approaches to addressing some of the challenges associated with online research.

Starting June 25, we are offering this seminar as a 4-day synchronous*, livestream workshop held via the free video-conferencing software Zoom. Each day will consist of two lecture sessions which include hands-on exercises, separated by a 1-hour break. You are encouraged to join the lecture live, but will have the opportunity to view the recorded session later in the day if you are unable to attend at the scheduled time.

*We understand that finding time to participate in livestream courses can be difficult. If you prefer, you may take all or part of the course asynchronously. The video recordings will be made available within 24 hours of each session and will be accessible for four weeks after the seminar, meaning that you will get all of the class content and discussions even if you cannot participate synchronously. Please note that this course contains several small group discussions that cannot be joined asynchronously. We will be able to record one of the sessions, but not all simultaneously. The instructor will provide all relevant materials so that asynchronous participants can review them on their own.

Closed captioning is available for all live and recorded sessions. Live captions can be translated to a variety of languages including Spanish, Korean, and Italian. For more information, click here.

More Details About the Course Content

This course presents the latest research on designing web-surveys and working with online respondents. We first address the fundamentals of writing effective survey questions, which is the core of any survey, web-based or otherwise. We then turn to various design issues with an eye toward maximizing response rates and data quality. Topics include determining optimal survey length, adapting for mobile devices, reducing respondent fatigue, creating effective visual layouts, and pre-testing. We then discuss online samples: when to use them, how to recruit them, and how to manage them effectively. Class meetings will consist of lectures interspersed with demonstrations of key ideas. You will be given the opportunity to apply the principles and skills through take-home exercises.


This course uses Qualtrics survey software. However, the principles discussed can be applied in many web-survey software packages, so participants who use a package other than Qualtrics will still benefit. Alternately, those without a Qualtrics subscription can use the free version of Qualtrics, which allows access to a number of important design capabilities. Please note that while this class uses Qualtrics, it is not a class about Qualtrics—that is, the focus will be on survey design, not on familiarizing participants with the full capabilities of Qualtrics.

Who Should Register?

This course is suitable for anyone who wants an up-to-date understanding of best practices in web survey design and working with online respondents. Course content will be valuable for both novices and seasoned researchers who have limited experience collecting data online.


  • Introduction to key concepts in (web) survey design
  • Designing effective web-surveys
    • Survey length
    • Writing the questionnaire
      • Writing (or finding) effective questions
      • Writing complete questionnaires
    • Programming the survey
      • Survey flow
      • Visual design
      • Interactive features
    • Mobile devices
    • Pre-testing surveys
  • Working with online samples
    • Do you want an online sample?
    • Probability vs. non-probability samples
    • Correcting for non-probability sampling
    • Working with online respondents
      • Recruitment
      • Mitigating threats to data integrity
    • Recruiting respondents online
    • Ethical considerations when using online samples

Reviews of Designing Effective Online Surveys

“This course offers comprehensive information on how to design online surveys, recruit participants using online samples, and prevent fraud. This course also offers many practical tips that you can use for your own studies. Andrew is very knowledgeable about this topic. You can also ask him questions related to issues you have with your own studies. I wish I took this course before I started my online survey research for my dissertation.” 
  Grace Chen, Johns Hopkins University 

“This course had great coverage, the concepts were well explained, and it was well paced.”
  Gentiana Sadikaj, Financial Consumer Agency of Canada 

“I enjoyed all of the detailed information that the instructor provided. I appreciate the expertise Andrew has and was able to share with all of us. I learned a lot in this course!” 
  Adam Smith, Bowling Green State University 

“Highly recommend this comprehensive course for graduate students who are going to use or create surveys for data collection. The course content was very relevant and helped me improve my overall survey design. Thank you!” 
  Nancy Connor, Queen’s University 

“I found the course interesting to follow. Although it was online, it was interactive enough to keep the attention high, and I also liked the teacher. I enjoyed the breakout session in smaller groups as well.” 
  Elise Braekman, Sciensano 

“The instructor’s superb presentation and handling of questions was top notch – sharp, knowledgeable, to the point.”  
  Anar Ahmadov, Leiden University 

Seminar Information

Tuesday, June 25 –
Friday, June 28, 2024

Daily Schedule: All sessions are held live via Zoom. All times are ET (New York time).

10:30am-12:30pm (convert to your local time)

Payment Information

The fee of $995 includes all course materials.

PayPal and all major credit cards are accepted.

Our Tax ID number is 26-4576270.