Duke Undergraduate Survey Policy

Policy Rationale

Undergraduate students are frequent targets for surveys administered by parties ranging from outside agencies to faculty conducting research to fellow students running opinion polls. While individually most of these surveys serve valid research or administrative purposes, in the aggregate they take time away from core academic endeavors and cause “survey fatigue,” eroding survey response rates and reducing the validity of results. Lack of coordination in the past has resulted in multiple/similar surveys being fielded simultaneously to the same students, creating confusion and frustration for survey administrators and respondents alike. Survey fatigue is a particular danger for members of groups which need to be "oversampled" (in the technical statistical sense) to make sure of a valid survey sample size for that group.  

Procedures and Guidelines

For surveys proposed to be administered to more than 100 undergraduates (the same number that invokes the Group E-mail Policy, see below), the Survey Proposal Form should be submitted to the Director of Institutional Research in the Office of the Provost. Such requests will be evaluated in terms of the following guidelines:

  • All requests for population samples for purposes of generalizable research and publication must conform to Human Subjects guidelines, and will be referred to the Human Subjects Committee (IRB). Survey participant lists will not be released prior to IRB approval in this case.  Subsequent survey policy requirements still apply as well.
  • Group-email advance letters, survey invitations, and non-respondent follow-ups must conform to the university Group E-Mail Policy.
  • Surveys should normally be administered to the smallest number of respondents necessary to achieve a high likelihood of statistical validity, taking response rate assumptions based on recent experience into consideration.
  • All requests for population samples should include procedures to maintain confidentiality of survey respondents, to make clear to survey recipients that they are free not to participate, and to give survey respondents the opportunity to see the research results (basic human subjects research considerations).
  • Larger surveys, defined as requiring samples of more than 500 students, should be submitted for consideration at least three months prior to proposed administration to allow time for survey samples to be coordinated with other contemporaneous surveys. Such coordination will be implemented by selecting prospective respondents who have not yet been included in other surveys' samples, to the extent possible.

Decisions of the Director of Institutional Research may be appealed to the Dean of Undergraduate Education.


The following very common survey types do not need to be submitted for review and approval:

  • Survey instruments designed to evaluate specific programs or campus services by contacting program participants or service users at the conclusion of the program or service.
  • Class projects surveying students only within that class.
  • Surveys to fewer than 100 undergraduates.