How to Design a Research Questionnaire

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Businesses and other organizations use research questionnaires every day to get answers to important questions. Whether they’re deployed online, by mail or in face-to-face interviews, questionnaires are the foundation of market research. For example, hotels might survey their customers to see how they like the bedspreads or the breakfast and how likely those things are to be factors in brand loyalty. Nonprofit organizations might use research to determine how the public feels about a particular issue and why. The design of an effective research questionnaire requires attention to a few basic guidelines.

Avoid common mistakes. For example, a long questionnaire will generally get less of a response than a short questionnaire, explains “Survival Statistics,” a professional research guidebook published by StatPac. Pay careful attention to the underlying foundation of the questionnaire. The most important ingredient in a well-designed questionnaire is a set of well-defined goals. Establish precise research objectives that can be expressed in clear, concise statements. Put the goals in writing.

Design good questions. For example, questions must be nonthreatening to respondents to prompt honest, truthful responses. Compose questions that require a “one-dimensional” response. If a questionnaire about a new snack food asks if the consumer likes the “texture and flavor” of the product and a respondent answers “no,” you will have no way of knowing whether the person dislikes the flavor, the texture or both.

Allow for all possible responses. Multiple-choice questions are most popular among researchers because they are easiest to answer and analyze, reports “Survival Statistics.” By the same token, asking a question that does not allow for a particular response from a particular respondent will undermine the research results. For example, if you ask only whether a consumer owns a PC or Mac computer, you are not allowing for those who own a different brand or no computer at all.

Word questions carefully. To avoid “leading” the respondent toward an answer -- especially a desired answer -- aim for maximum objectivity and use simple, direct language, urges “Survival Statistics,” which notes that “unfortunately, the effects of question wording are one of the least understood areas of questionnaire research.”

Group questions properly. Like any written document, a good research questionnaire should flow logically and be coherently organized into sections. Each new question should grow organically from its predecessors, and transitions from one section to another should be smooth. Research has demonstrated that the order of the questions in a research questionnaire can impact response, either statistically or qualitatively.

Create a plan for statistical analysis of the results. Determine how you will use the information in the operation of your business or organization. “If you cannot specify how you intend to analyze a question or use the information, do not use it in the survey,” says “Survival Statistics.”


  • If in doubt, retain a research expert as a consultant. Modern research is a precise science that has a well-established set of professional disciplines. Anything less than that can undermine your efforts to gather important information and insights critical to your ongoing operations.