Most surveys contain demographic questions appropriate to the population
youre interested in learning about. Demographic characteristics may be important to
distinguish differences in behaviors or attitudes reported by males and females, or young
adults and middle-aged persons. Such information may be valuable both for interpreting the
results and for making policy decisions regarding what services to offer, in what format,
and in what quantity. Here are some examples of demographic questions:
- age: How old were you on your last birthday? _____ years
- race/ethnicity. There are lots of ways to ask this question. One typical way:
Do you consider yourself to be. . .
African American or Black
Hispanic or Latino
Asian or Pacific Islander
Other (please specify____________)
- marital status:
Are you currently. . .
What is the highest grade or schooling you have completed?
1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade
5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th grade
12th, no diploma
High school graduate (or GED)
Some college but no degree
Associate degree in college - Occupational program
Associate degree in college - Academic program
Professional school degree
Ask questions with reasonable time frames. For example, if you want to ask questions
related to HIV-related sexual risk behaviors, it is important to ask for those behaviors
within a time frame that the respondent will be able to remember. Most survey questions
ask respondents to report sexual behavior in the last 12 months, 6 months, 3 months, 30
days, or last encounter. When youre asking about sexual activity, you
may want to use a shorter time frame than when you are asking about numbers of partners.
In the past 12 months how many of the women you had sex with were one-night-stands or
someone you had sex with only once?
(for men who have sex with men)These next questions ask about different sexual
activities you may have engaged in with other men. In the past 30 days, with how times
have had insertive anal intercourse with (MAN #1)?
Two basic approaches to scaling often used in surveys are rating and ranking. Rating
questions ask the respondent to make an evaluation according to a pre-coded set of ordered
response choices. For example:
Rating question: In general, do you rate your health at the present
time as very poor, poor, good, or very good?
Very poor 1
Very good 4
Another common scaling technique is to ask the respondent to make an evaluation by
ranking a group of items.
Ranking question: Please rank the following items in order of how
important you think they are to receiving adequate health care. Assign a value of 1 to the
item you think is the most important and 2 to the item you think is the second most
important, and so on, for all seven items.
a. Convenience of location
b. Convenience of hours
c. Ease in getting an appointment
d. Your out-of-pocket costs
e. Quality of treatment or care
f. Length of waiting time in the office
g. Explanation of diagnosis and treatment
NOTE: The following manual was helpful in the development of portions of
this section on survey pointers: Design and conduct of community sample surveys: a
manual of principles and techniques. Prepared by Survey Research Laboratory,
University of Illinois, for the City of Chicago Department of Human Services. November