Ithaka S+R is gearing up for our eighth launch of the US Faculty Survey this fall. This national survey has yielded longitudinal data on scholarly research and teaching behaviors across a variety of institutional and disciplinary contexts on a triennial basis since 2000. To maximize the value of this initiative for higher education leaders, scholarly societies, academic libraries, and publishers who have come to rely on these data, especially in light of the past year’s disruptions and transformations to the sector, we are currently in the process of updating and testing this questionnaire. 

Following several conversations with our project advisors and the greater library assessment community, we are introducing several new areas of inquiry to the instrument. These new areascompeting priorities for faculty time, equitable teaching practices, and new models for research disseminationwill address emerging issues of strategic importance. Given the events of the last year, we are also in the process of critically examining not only these newly-crafted questions, but also those from previous survey cycles to make sure they continue to remain relevant in the current research and teaching landscape.

How do we ensure that the questions resonate with faculty members’ experiences? Cognitive interviews. Through this process, a draft survey questionnaire is distributed to a small sample of members of the survey population. We then meet with survey testers individually to collect information about their survey experience and thought processes surrounding their responses. We ask about specific questions in the instrument to evaluate their quality and determine if they are generating the information we intended. 

These semi-structured conversations help to ensure that both the long-standing and new survey questions are understood in a clear, consistent fashion among faculty members. This process provides us with confidence in the questionnaire and also helps us better understand the survey responses upon analysis.

Cognitive interviews not only help in testing survey instruments, but are a fun and interesting way to discuss and reflect on the state of research and teaching today. We are currently seeking faculty members to help us with this survey testing. If you are interested in this process and in helping to test a long-standing, nationwide survey, please email me at for more information.

Everything we learn through these cognitive interviews will also be reflected in our local faculty survey. Academic libraries who field this survey during the fall semester will have the opportunity to compare the results against our national findings. The deadline to participate this fall is Monday, August 16. For more information, including the draft survey instrument, please contact Nicole Betancourt at