Good Practice for Surveys

Advice from the registry surveys team

There has recently been an increase in participation rates for all surveys which were administered by the Registry surveys team. Here are some of the things we have done in recent years and some ideas for helping improve the participation rates for 2015-6:


Pre-launch email

In order to raise the awareness and stress the importance of a survey we would encourage departments to send a pre-launch emails. Shortly before the start of the termly SOLE lecturer/module evaluations the Registry surveys team will send the DUGS or DPGS a pre-launch email template. We would encourage departments to send this email from a senior member of department staff and to tailor the contents to their department accordingly, showing how feedback from previous surveys has been taken on board and changes made. The template is available here

Launch email

This is generated from the survey platform once a survey is open. Departments will be notified with the open and close dates for all surveys shortly. These are also be available on the surveys website.

Reminder Emails

Following the launch and reminder emails for a survey there is always a spike in response rates. Whilst reminders are possibly the best single way of improving participation rates, there is a danger of irritating our students by sending too many. We will continue to notify departments of the dates when we will send reminders centrally. Our reminders only go to students who have not started a survey (i.e. students who have partially completed a survey will not receive a reminder). Departments may reap higher particpation rates if they also send their own reminders, possibly from a senior member of staff, as this gives the survey more weight, particularly if departmental incentives and examples of changes are used. In order to ensure the anonymity of students, we will not be able to provide lists of who has and who hasn’t participated in a survey whilst it is running until the overall department participation rate has reached 30%. The Registry’s Survey Team will be happy to send personalised reminders on your behalf – please ask us about this. Example emails can be found here.

Final reminders

We will avoid closing surveys on weekends or bank holidays and will send the final reminder in the morning of the last day. You may want follow our email with your own last minute plea!

Thank you email

For the UG & PG SOLE surveys, we would encourage all departments to send a "thank you for taking part" email to all their students (not just those that participated) shortly after the survey closes. Include the headline results, initial response to these and inform students of what will happen next. If relevant mention future surveys, for example students who did not take part in Autumn SOLE might then be encouraged to take part in Spring SOLE. For central surveys such as SES, PTES and PRES this email will be sent by the Registry Surveys Team.

General advice on email communications

  • Timing: Try to avoid sending emails on a Monday or Friday. Emails received before the start of the working day are more likely to be responded to than those received during the day (i.e. send reminders early morning or late afternoon/evening)
  • Frequency: Avoid sending lots of emails, check when the central reminders will be sent from Registry and plan around these
  • Content: Change the email title and message content in each email you send (see examples here). Where possible stress how feedback is used and reference tangible results/changes so that students can see their views are taken seriously. Refer to your participation rates in your emails to demonstrate how you are doing compared to others or previous surveys (see “Engender a sense of competition and pride” below). Change the way in which ask students to respond, for example instead of always saying “Please help us reach 70%” every time say “We need another X students to complete the survey to reach 70%. Please be one of these X students". You may find your students respond best to informal, friendly communications, so consider varying the tone and style of your message each time.


Department are welcome to offer incentives and here are a list of things which have been used previously around College and elsewhere (Registry Surveys Team can provide a list of students who have completed the survey once the survey is closed);

  • Print credits
  • Free prize draws for taking part – book tokens, amazon vouchers, etc
  • A party/lunch/breakfast (or any kind of free food) for the highest scoring department, course or year
  • Donations of anything from 50p to £5 to a charity, student society or student hardship fund for each completed survey

However, caution should be used when deciding on the use incentives as it is not clear how effective incentives (with a monetary value) really are. For example, in 2011 students were offered prizes (5 x £20 amazon vouchers) to complete the PRES survey. In 2013 no prize incentives were offered and the response rate was increased by nearly 10%.

Furthermore, by offering incentives to those who have participated in a survey, the anonymity of the survey could be brought into question. We will be happy to arrange for your print credits or to run your free prize draws on your behalf. Please let us know if this is something you would like us to do.

Engender a sense competition and pride

An alternative to offering incentives with a monetary value is to appeal to students’ competitive side. For example, with UG lecturer/module SOLE, the Registry surveys team regularly circulates departmental participation rates.  You can also request to receive this information by year groups too. 

Timetabling a survey session

Can you set aside a scheduled date and time in a departmental computing room for students to complete the survey? This makes completion easier for students and works for Earth Science & Engineering who regularly achieve survey participation rates of 98-100%. The earlier you can do this in a survey the better as a clear advantage to students is no more survey reminders! Offering refreshments (cakes, donuts, etc.) as an added incentive can work well too.

Pop-up reminders

For UG SOLE we will continue the use pop-up reminders on College computers every time a student logs in. The pop-ups only appear for those who haven’t started SOLE and start in the second week of UG SOLE being open. 

Shortening the termly SOLE lecturer/module evaluation

We would encourage departments to leave out of the end of term SOLE surveys lecturers who have taught for one-off sessions or only a few hours. These lecturers can be surveyed individually via the Individual lecturer survey . By removing these lecturers from the end of term SOLE, SOLE will be easier and less time consuming to complete. It will also benefit the lecturers themselves as they will get their results shortly after their lecture has taken place.

Raising the profile of the surveys

  • Handbooks: We provide editable text for inclusion in new student handbooks - see here
  • Module descriptors: Where possible include SOLE results in module descriptors
  • Inductions: Please mention surveys in your induction events
  • Announcements: Ask your lecturers/tutors to mention relevant surveys when they are about to open and whilst they are running during their lecturers/teaching sessions.
  • Work with your student reps: Your student reps are an invaluable resource in getting the message out. For example, Reps can help with sending messages via Facebook groups, twitter, etc and lecture “shout outs”. The ICU have really made a difference in helping improve participation rates for SOLE and NSS and train the Reps in the importance of SOLE and NSS. 
  • Appoint a surveys champion: Someone (staff or student) who can send regular updates on participation rates and feedback, and, ideally, someone who can communicate to students via social media, Facebook, twitter, etc.
  • Promotional materials: The Registry’s survey team will be providing a range of editable posters for the SOLE, PRES and PTES surveys. Please download and display copies around you department on noticeboards and screens. The templates are available here.

Responding to student feedback

One of the best methods to improve participation rates is to ensure there is a good feedback loop. See our advice on responding to student feedback.

One more thing…

The Registry’s survey team would really welcome hearing from you. If you have something which works for your department, please let us know so we can share your good practice across the College.

Further reading

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) publishes some guidance and case studies on raising response rates for their PTES and PRES surveys. Some of the ideas and suggestions included in these documents are transferable to other types of surveys and have been included on this page. 

HEA - how to run a successful survey and raise response rates

HEA - survey information