How to Design a Good Questionnaire

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It can be tempting to leap straight to writing the questions when you need to design a questionnaire, but this can lead to poor data capture and analysis. To maximize your response rate, you have to carefully consider how you will administer the questionnaire, who you'll ask the questions to and what type of questions you'll ask. Once you've done the preparation, the actual survey design is relatively simple.

What's the Purpose of a the Questionnaire?

Before you begin, ask yourself, what is the purpose of the questionnaire? Perhaps you are thinking about introducing a new product and need to know if there's a market for it, or perhaps you want feedback about a new employee initiative you've implemented. Who would you like to put your questions to – employees, suppliers, existing customers, new customers who don't already shop with you, males, females or people of a specific age group? The answers to these questions will inform the questionnaire design including the type of questions you ask and how you ask them. Know your audience!

Plan How the Survey Will be Administered

Generally, your options include a personal interview, phone interview, written or online questionnaire. These methods each have different advantages and disadvantages and affect the types of questions that can be asked. For example, a personal interview can ask open-ended questions as the interviewer can ask the respondent to clarify any ambiguous responses to extrapolate the required information. With an online survey, it's much better to have "yes/no," "agree/disagree" and multiple choice questions as they're quicker to answer. Respondents are more likely to skip the open-ended questions in a written survey.

Some Good Questionnaire Topics

If the respondent is reading the survey, you must have clear instructions on the page. A good introduction explains why the data is being collected and for whom. It should also explain about confidentiality in line with data protection legislation. You may even want to give an estimated amount of time that the survey will take to fill out. Next, pick the key items you want to find out about. For example, if you wanted to launch a new chocolate product in the market, good questionnaire topics might include what flavors people liked, how much would someone pay for a chocolate bar and what size or shape of a chocolate bar they are more likely to choose. You'll base your questions around these themes.

Write the Questions

Questions should be interesting, easy to answer and respectful of a person's time. Use everyday words and language and put the easy-to-answer questions at the beginning of the survey, leaving sensitive questions such as income and demographic information to the end. This encourages respondents to keep going. When writing your questions, be very specific. For example, don't ask: "What is your income?" A more specific question would be, "What was your total household income before taxes in 2017?" To ensure consistency, it's a good idea to provide reference frames. For example, If you're asking how much someone would spend on a chocolate bar, you might give options of $0.50-to -$1, $1-to-$2, $2-to-$3, $3-to-$4 or more than $4.

Respondents are more likely to answer a short questionnaire than a long one, so pare your draft down to the critical questions. If a question does not address one of your core themes, discard it.

Figure Out Your Rating Scales

Think about how you will tabulate the responses. For smaller feedback surveys, it may be enough to create a table or spreadsheet with a row for each respondent and a column for each question so you can easily read the responses. For multiple choice and rank-order questionnaires, where you're asking the degree to which a respondent "agrees" or "disagrees" with certain statements, you're going to have to allocate a number of points to each answer. Between five and seven points is usually best. Is your questionnaire easy to code like this?

Take a Pilot Survey

The final step is a pilot survey where you get a group of people to answer your questionnaire. Their responses will not form part of your overall data set; rather, you're using their responses to hone the design of the questionnaire. Did they find any of the questions confusing, boring or even annoying? Did they skip any questions? When you run a quick analysis of the data, are there lots of "other" or "don't know" responses to your questions? If so, you may need to add another response alternative to that particular question. Use what you found out from the pilot survey to make final changes to your questionnaire before you send it out to your target respondents.

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About the Author

Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a business writer. Her articles have appeared on numerous business sites including Typefinder, Women in Business, Startwire and Indeed.com.