Good Practices: Demographic Data Collection

As with good practices generally, any advice must be combined with a specific context and use of good judgement in order to determine what is appropriate to a specific situation. This page is part of the broader #TransTerps campaign, and on this site you can find out more about trainings and events, good practices, and resources and policies for supporting trans folks on campus.

These are suggestions for use in informal and classroom situations as well as event or program evaluations. If you have questions or are working on data collection for research of a larger scale please consider contacting the LGBT Equity Center for assistance. This page provides questions to consider before collecting data, example demographic questions, and additional context and information.

This is a supplement to existing university policies and procedures on non-discrimination, inclusive language, data collection, and the use of collected demographic data. Our goal is to provide useful questions for thinking about your specific situations as well as recommendations for how and when to consider gender identity and sexual orientation in metrics and classroom engagement.

Before Collecting Data

Is this demographic info essential/useful, private/secure? How will this data be used?

  • For privacy and legal reasons it is important to ensure that information is not asked for without anonymity, unless confidentiality can be kept.
  • In a classroom setting refraining from using pronouns until they have been gathered from the students can be a way to normalize the usage of the correct pronoun for each student.
  • We suggest having this information provided in writing by all students as well as the name they should be called in class and potentially pronunciation information. It may be harder for students to indicate their identity on the spot in a classroom introduction style unless they know their identity will be respected.
  • In event evaluations demographics can be useful in evaluating the audience served and tracking which populations are attending over time.
  • Even if your event is not geared towards the LGBTQ+ communities, use of the appropriate language shows that your organization or office is making an effort to be inclusive and welcoming.

Should I be pulling down data from central databases or asking my own question? Are my approaches to this in alignment with current university policies and procedures?

  • As policies and procedures develop over time you are advised to review them whenever creating a new document or process to collect demographics.
  • This question is important because the university does not currently track pronouns, trans identity, or sexual orientation in the Student Information System. This means in terms of a classroom roster the information that can be generated may not match the lived experience of the students.

Will the way someone answers affect them? If so, you probably need to have a consultation with an expert before committing to a specific approach.

  • This is specifically asking if access to services or supports could or will be impacted by the answers a student gives and/or if having a difference between the answers given and the SIS information would cause issues for the student.
  • Are there other reasons I need to consult with someone more before choosing the right approach?

Example Demographic Questions

Sometimes, the simplest and most open way to ask about gender and sexual orientation is simply to write "Gender: _________" and "Sexual Orientation: _________" if you are working with a relatively small group and do not need to do quantitative analysis on the data. For more analysis, the following may be useful approaches, but may not be the best approaches depending on the specific circumstance.

1a) Gender (optional):

  • Woman
  • Man
  • Nonbinary (neither, both, or something else): _________

1b) Do you identify as transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming? (optional)

  • No
  • Yes. Please specify: _________

2) Sexual orientation (optional):

  • Heterosexual/straight
  • Bisexual/pansexual
  • Gay/lesbian
  • Something else: _________

3) Pronouns that should be used to refer to you (optional):

  • She/her/hers
  • He/him/his
  • They/them/theirs
  • Ze/zir/zirs
  • Something else: _________

Additional Context and Information

It is important to note that gender identity and sexual orientation typically should not be combined into a single question as they refer to two distinct identities.

Outside of situations where you are providing healthcare, it is often inappropriate and generally unnecessary to ask for assigned sex. If you believe your data requires this question, consider conferring with the LGBT Equity Center and additional good practice information specific to your field and use of data.

Additionally, gender identity and appropriate pronoun should also be asked separately any time both pieces of information are needed.

These questions have been designed to balance the need for easy data collection and self-definition. It is a best practice to use a text box or blank space for self-definition wherever possible for the most accuracy, but it is also understood that individualized answers are cumbersome in large datasets. Sometimes what is most useful is developing an understanding of the spectrum of individuals in your space while other times it may be specific numbers you need. We encourage you to take the time necessary to determine which of these applies to each situation.

Finally, we suggest using these questions to evaluate your use of other demographic questions (such as questions on race or age). The general philosophy and approach to demographic questions usually should not look totally different for different categories of identity/status.