Collecting demographics

Column 1

The goal of demographic data collection is to gather information that is accurate, complete, inclusive, and usable. When we successfully collect data in this way, we:

  • Continue to lead in LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion
  • Increase student and employee success
  • Enhance feelings of belonging on campus
  • Support LGBTQIA2S+ student thriving

​Please note: demographic collection practices change over time and we will update this resource as new inclusive practices emerge. Further, there are nuances to how to best collect demographic information, as well as names and pronouns, that vary based on the type of collection. For example, how you collect and manage data may be very different if you are booking student travel than it would be if you are writing a survey. If you have further questions about demographic data after reviewing the below recommendations, please submit a consultation request.

Column 1

Questions and considerations 

Demographic information can be understood as a bureaucratic necessity, mandated by federal, state, or university systems. It can also be a tool of social justice used to shed light on inequalities and oppressive experiences. However, LGBTQIA2S+ identities have historically not been included in collection and, when included, often use language that leads to inaccuracies and potential harm. Specifically, survey design can misrepresent, invisibilize, or stigmatize individuals and communities (APA, 2016; Garvey, 2020). Therefore, we invite you to consider the following questions as you engage in demographic data collection: 

  • Do you need to collect this information? Why?
  • How will you collect this information?
  • What will you do with this information?
  • If this information is inaccurate, what are the consequences for the respondent or respondents’ communities? ​ 

Orienting around key values 

Center the following values in your data collection process. 

Identify the specific reason for why you are gathering demographic information; perhaps it is for a federal reporting purpose, research question, organizational/departmental evaluation, medical purpose, or onboarding process. If you do not need this information for a specific reason, do not ask for it. 

Provide easy access to definitions by linking or including hover-over-text, when possible. Additionally, in order to enhance user engagement and trust, share how you will be using the data, who will have access to it, and why you are asking questions in this way. For example, you may note: 

  • This information will only be reported in aggregate.
  • Your individual responses are kept strictly confidential.
  • Providing this information is optional.
  • This information will not be used for discriminatory purposes.
  • This information is requested due to [insert legal/bureaucratic process]. 

Allow for open-response field responses when possible, as they are the most inclusive option (Rankin & Garvey 2015; Suen et al., 2020). Open-response field responses may work best with smaller sample sizes. If time/resources are limited, an inclusive drop-down menu will suffice. When possible/appropriate, allow users to select multiple options and avoid including too few options in the drop-down menu. Also, allow people to update their identities, when applicable. 

Consider giving agency to participants in selecting where they are included in usable demographic categories. Related, depending on what you plan to do with your data, it is important to consider how and where you include the trans community. For example, trans women should be included in both discussions of women (with cisgender women) and discussions of trans people. 

Research, particularly meta-analysis, will benefit from uniform definitions and language across data collection (Garvey et al., 2019). Understand the differences between gender/sex, and ask yourself if gender/sex provide the information you need. Specifically, gender and sex are not accurate short-hands for a person’s biological attributes (chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs), medical history, or life experiences. Furthermore, consider utilizing recommended gender identity and legal sex survey language in the U-M Library in Qualtrics. 

Column 2


Use our demographics template through Qualtrics. It contains guidelines for collecting demographic data specific to gender identity, sex on record, sex assigned at birth, sexual identity/orientation, and other LGBTQ+identities/experiences. This survey is housed in the U-M Qualtrics Library, meaning you can directly add to your own Qualtrics survey using the “copy from library” function, detailed here. Note: Instead of importing from existing project as suggested in the Qualtrics instructions, search for “LGBTQ+ Demographic Data Collection” to find the survey in the U-M Library. 

  • Alternatively, copy and paste the questions into your own survey software.
  • Specific examples of demographic questions (e.g., university data collection, social science surveys, travel information, classroom information). ​ 


LGBTQIA2S+ organization resources 


American Psychological Association. (2016). Resolution on Data about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Garvey, J. C. (2014). Demographic information collection in higher education and student affairs survey instruments: Developing a national landscape for intersectionality. Intersectionality & higher education: Theory, research, & praxis, 201-216.Garvey, J. C. (2014). Demographic information collection in higher education and student affairs survey instruments: Developing a national landscape for intersectionality. In Intersectionality & Higher Education: Research, Theory, & Praxis. Peter Lang Incorporated, International Academic Publishers.Garvey, J. C. (2020). Critical Imperatives for Studying Queer and Trans Undergraduate Student Retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 21(4), 431-454.Garvey, J. C., Hart, J., Metcalfe, A. S., & Fellabaum-Toston, J. (2019). Methodological troubles with gender and sex in higher education survey research. The Review of Higher Education, 43(1), 1-24.Rankin, S. and Garvey, J.C. (2015). Identifying, Quantifying, and Operationalizing Queer-Spectrum and Trans-Spectrum Students: Assessment and Research in Student Affairs. New Directions for Student Services, 2015(152), 73-84., L. W., Lunn, M. R., Katuzny, K., et al. (2020). What sexual and gender minority people want researchers to know about sexual orientation and gender identity questions: A qualitative study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49, 2301-2318.