The guidelines we have provided are in line with the latest scholarship on survey design and the psychology of survey response in order to maximise the reliability and validity of scales. For more guidance about developing your own questionnaire or adapting an existing one, please visit Developing your own and amending existing questionnaires.


Can I word the items as agree-disagree statements?

This is generally inadvisable. Agree-disagree statements can be taxing on the respondent, therefore reducing respondent effort and increasing error. It is best to word the items as questions.

You can turn the statement, “I am confident that I will achieve most of the goals I have set for myself” into the question “How confident are you that you will be able to achieve most of the goals you have set for yourself?”

Can I use different labels in the response options?

It is advisable to use verbal labels that tie back to the question you are asking in your item. This grounds the responses in exactly what you are asking about (i.e. confidence) and helps to focus the attention of the respondent on the question you are asking.

“How confident are you that you will be able to achieve most of the goals you have set for yourself?”

Example scale

I want to gain more information. Can I combine two points in one question?

Add another, separate item to address the second point. Do not try to capture two points in one item. This may lead to respondents only answering one part of the item and complicates analysis.

Instead of, “How confident are you that you will successfully overcome many challenges and still perform well when things get tough?”

Split this into two items:

  1. How confident are you that you will successfully overcome many challenges?
  2. When things are tough, how confident are you that you can still perform well?

Can I ask questions in a negative way? (e.g. can I ask about failure, or feeling left out?)

Negative words are more difficult to process cognitively, leading to increased response times and respondent error. Instead, keep the items phrased with positive language so that you can maximise respondent effort and understanding exactly what you are asking.

Instead of asking, “How confident are you that you will not accomplish/fail at difficult tasks?”

 Ask, “How confident are you that you will accomplish difficult tasks?”

Can i change the number of response options?

Research recommends 4-7 options. This is because when given many options, respondents tend to cluster their responses in 4 options. More than 7 options tends to overwhelm respondents and they tend to end up choosing between 4 anyway! We recommend the 5 response options that accompany the items in each of the questionnaires you will find for download on this page.

Some have used a ‘sliding’ or ‘0-100 point’ scale (Bandura, 2006). While this technically allows more fine-grained statistical analysis, issues to consider are:

  • Whether you have sufficient responses to make more finely-granulated variations meaningful – this may not be the case if you are only administering the survey to a class or small cohort;
  • Whether you have sufficient grounds for believing that the more finely-granulated variations you may capture are genuinely caused by the intervention or change being evaluated – this may be challenging if you are evaluating things which are complex and have multiple causes, such as one’s self-efficacy, academic attainment, or ‘sense of belonging’.  

I want to remove some of the items from this scale. Do I have to use all of them?

The way that scales are designed is such that each item addresses a piece of the construct that is to be measured. We recommend using all of the items as they all work together to help us make sense of the topic of interest.

Can I amend the scale?

Sometimes, you might want to move away from these recommended best practices in questionnaire design. There may be justifiable reasons for this – for example, in order to make your findings comparable with another paper that uses a different type of instrument.

Generally, we recommend staying within the lines of best practice as best you can. CHERS staff are happy to discuss the implications of amending scales with you.