Students - Get Started!

Start A Project

Since 1992, the Survey Research Center has helped hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students collect original survey data for their research projects. We encourage students to seek our advice early in the year they start their research work. Here are some guidelines for getting your project through each of the stages shown below:

1. Formulating your ideas
2. Tell us about your project
3. Writing your questionnaire
4. Getting IRB approval
5. Programming and testing your web questionnaire
6. Developing your sample
7. Launching your survey
8. Sending reminders
9. Downloading your results

Formulating your ideas

Students should talk to their faculty advisors about formulating research projects. If your project involves the analysis of survey data, you should check first to see if the data you need have already been collected by someone else.  One way to start is by checking data sets available from federal statistical agencies such as the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  These agencies spend millions of dollars every year on survey data collection and archives of their data sets are available on their web sites.  There are also archives of public opinion data that can be accessed through the web.  Please check the SRC’s Important Resources page and Princeton University’s Data and Statistical Services.

Tell us about your project

After discussing your project with your academic advisor, tell us more about your project using our online form. First time users should schedule an appointment to meet with a staff member of the SRC.  During this meeting the Associate or Assistant Director of SRC will review your research project, determine the most appropriate methods to accomplish your goals and steps needed to get your project up and running. 

Writing your questionnaire  

The next step is to work with your advisor to draft the questionnaire for your survey.  At this stage you can also come to the SRC for guidance on question wording, formatting, and layout.  For additional advice on drafting your questionnaire, please see Chapter 6 of the American Statistical Association’s online guide “What is a Survey?”

Additional suggestion:

  • To comply with IRB guidelines, the first page of your survey questionnaire should function as a consent form, as in the example below: 

    Note:  You need to fill in the information in the brackets […]


[Insert Department here]

TITLE OF RESEARCH: [Insert research title here.]

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: [Insert Principal Investigator name here.]

IRB PROTOCOL #: [Insert number here.)

IRB Approval Date:     Click here to enter IRB approval date.

IRB Expiration Date:     Click here to enter IRB expiration date.

You are being invited to take part in a research study. Before you decide to participate in this study, it is important that you understand why the research is being done and what it will involve. Please take the time to read the following information carefully. Please ask the researcher if there is anything that is not clear or if you need more information.

Purpose of the research:
[Provide a brief, usually one-paragraph, explanation of what the research is about and state why the subject is being asked to participate (e.g., inclusion/exclusion criteria).]

Study Procedures: 
[Describe all procedures, including an identification of those that are experimental clinical treatments. Include audio/video taping/photo here, if applicable, and add an extra signature line below to consent specifically to taping, etc.; state the duration of each session here and total duration of research participation next]

Your total expected time commitment for this study is: [Insert total time commitment]

Benefit and Risk: 
[Describe any possible benefit to the participants or others that may reasonably be expected from the research; then describe any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the participants, or state “there are no foreseeable risks,” if none are identified.]

[Use the sample below to describe the extent to which confidentiality of records identifying the participants will be maintained; state whether their information will remain either anonymous or confidential and who will have access. If tape recordings or videotapes are made, explain who will have access, and when they will be erased. Note: Participant identifying information will be anonymous only if there is no link to their responses and it is not possible at any point to identify the participant.] 
All records from this study will be kept confidential. Your responses will be kept private, and we will not include any information that will make it possible to identify you in any report we might publish. Research records will be stored securely in a locked cabinet and/or on password-protected computers. The research team will be the only party that will have access to your data.

[Specify whether participants will be compensated and if so, the amount. If amount will be prorated for any reason, state this.]

Whom to contact with questions:


[Insert contact information for Principal Investigator(s) here]

If you have questions regarding your rights as a research subject, or if problems arise which you do not feel you can discuss with the Investigator, please contact the Institutional Review Board at:

Office of Research Integrity and Assurance 
Human Research Protection Program
Assistant Director 
Phone: (609) 258-0865

I understand the information presented above and that:

A. My participation is voluntary, and I may withdraw my consent and discontinue participation in the project at any time.  My refusal to participate will not result in any penalty.

B. By agreeing to take this survey, I do not waive any legal rights or release Princeton University, its agents, or you from liability for negligence.

Yes, I give my consent to be a subject of your research

No, I do not give my consent to participate in your research



In addition to your questionnaire, you will also need to submit to the IRB a copy of the letter or email message you plan to use to invite people to take your survey.

Below are some examples of survey invitation letters:

Subject: Senior Thesis Survey – Your Chance to win $50

Dear [Name],

I am a senior in the psychology department. Below is a link to a survey that is part of my research for my senior thesis. It is a short 10 minute survey about health care issues. By completing this survey you will be entered into a lottery. Four winners will be randomly selected to receive a cash prize of $50. Your participation is greatly appreciated!


Thanks for your time, 

This link is unique to you. Please do not forward it.

Subject: The High School Valedictorian Project

Dear [FirstName] [LastName],

Congratulations on your outstanding academic accomplishments during high school!  As valedictorian of [F4] High School you have been personally selected to participate in The High School Valedictorian Project, a groundbreaking and innovative study investigating the post-secondary school outcomes of America’s best and brightest.

Please share your experiences in our approximately twenty to thirty minute online survey by clicking [Link], a unique and secure link created just for you.  Rest assured that all of your answers will be used only for scholarly purposes and will be kept completely confidential. 

Your participation is critical to the success of this project.  Only through your responses can we better understand this pivotal period in the life course and help future high achieving high school graduates successfully navigate it. 

Thank you again for your so very generous participation.


Getting IRB Approval

Before you can begin your survey, you may need to get approval from the Princeton University Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is responsible for monitoring all research at Princeton University that involves human subjects.  Before you can begin your study, it must be reviewed and approved by the IRB.  To get your study reviewed, you must complete a standard IRB form (Questionnaire A or B) and provide a copy of your questionnaire and any letters or email messages that will be sent to people you will invite to participate in your study. In some cases, research projects may be exempt from IRB review if they meet certain criteria.  In such cases, you will need to complete Questionnaire B.  If you are applying for full review, you will need to complete Questionnaire A. (Click here for additional information)

Your request for IRB approval should include: (1) a completed and signed copy of Questionnaire A or B, (2) a copy of your questionnaire, and (3) a copy of the letter, email invitation, or posting you will use to recruit people for your survey.

The IRB meets to review applications only once a month, so it is important to be aware of the monthly deadlines for submitting a request for your project to be reviewed.

If you do not receive immediate approval from the IRB because there is a problem with your application or because the IRB requests additional information, it is important to make the changes requested or provide the additional information AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  You cannot proceed with your research until you receive a notice of approval like the one shown below.  Note that your project is given a 4-digit IRB case number that must be shown on the first page of your questionnaire.

Example of IRB approval notice


Programming and testing your web questionnaire

Once you have full IRB approval or an exemption from IRB review, please contact the SRC to get access to the appropriate web survey tool. Using your Qualtrics account, you will create an online version of your questionnaire. You can use survey design wizard or develop your survey from scratch.

  • Be sure to proofread your questionnaire application thoroughly to make sure there are no spelling errors, missing words or punctuation problems.
  • Test and re-test the questionnaire to be sure the skip patterns are working correctly.
  • At the end of your survey, we recommend that you direct all users to this "Thank you" page.
  • Send the URL for your survey to your advisor and some friends so they can offer comments or suggestions.

The default period of use of your account will be six weeks. If you need this account for more than six weeks then please notify SRC.

For more detailed information on using Qualtrics, click here.

Developing your sample

In survey research, your “sample” is the group of people you are inviting to take your survey.  If you are conducting a survey by mail, you’ll have a sample of names and addresses.  For a telephone survey you’ll start with a list of telephone numbers.  To do a survey over the Internet you need email addresses.  There are several ways to develop or acquire a sample:

  • You can supply your own list of name and email addresses (from a directory or list service)
  • Collect names from web directories (for example, all public school principals in the state of New Jersey)
  • Use a sample of Princeton University students 
    • The SRC will arrange for you to use a sample of Princeton students for your survey.

To upload your sample file in Qualtrics, save your data as a *.csv file in the following format:


where the additional fields can be either a random number or a text string that you want to appear in a question for that sample member. Uploading and storing names allows you to send personalized email invitations and reminder messages. A random number will enable you create skip logic so you can perform experiments in your questionnaire. A text string will allow you to customize the wording of a question for each sample member.

Launching your survey

Once your online questionnaire is ready and your sample is loaded, you may start your data collection. If you are sending email invitations to your sample members, you will need to send the text of the invitation to the SRC and we will launch the survey for you. The system (Qualtrics) generates email invitations that contain unique links for each participant. Let us know if you want to personalize the invitation letters.

If you are planning to send out a general link to participants using your own email account or plan to make the link available somewhere else (lab, website etc), you can do that yourself. 

NOTE: Before you launch your survey with your full sample, try it first with a small sample that includes you, your advisor and a few friends. This will allow you to fine tune the email invitation before you launch your survey with the full sample.

Sending reminder emails

If you do not get enough responses in the first 5 to 7 days, you may want to send a reminder email message to the non-responders. You could send out more than one reminder, as required, after a few more days.

Downloading your results

Qualtrics has special features that enable users to analyze their survey results without downloading the data. For more information on these features, click here.

When you have finished collecting completed interviews, you can download your data any of several formats available from Qualtrics. You can download your data as numeric codes or as literal text responses. Responses to open ended questions will exported as literal text along with the responses to all your other questions. When you have your data and are ready to begin analyzing your responses, you can get help from Data and Statistical Services in Firestone Library.