Questionnaire construction

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Questionnaires are frequently used in quantitative marketing research and social research in general. They are a valuable method of collecting a wide range of information from a large number of respondents. Good questionnaire construction is critical to the success of a survey. Inappropriate questions, incorrect ordering of questions, incorrect scaling, or bad questionnaire format can make the survey valueless. A useful method for checking a questionnaire for problems is to pretest it. This usually involves giving it to a small sample of respondents, then interviewing the respondents to get their impressions and to confirm that the questions accurately captured their opinions.

Questionnaire construction issues

  • The research objectives and frame of reference should be defined beforehand, including the questionnaire's context of time, budget, manpower, intrusion and privacy.
  • The nature of the expected responses should be defined and retained for interpretation of the responses, be it preferences (of products or services), facts, beliefs, feelings, descriptions of past behavior, or standards of action.
  • Unneeded questions are an expense to the researcher and an unwelcome imposition on the respondents. All questions should contribute to the objective(s) of the research.

  • The topics should fit the respondents’ frame of reference. Their background may affect their interpretation of the questions. Respondents should have enough information or expertise to answer the questions truthfully.
  • The type of scale, index, or typology to be used shall be determined.
  • The types of questions (closed, multiple-choice, open) should fit the statistical data analysis techniques available.

  • Questions and prepared responses to choose from should be neutral as to intended outcome. A biased question or questionnaire encourages respondents to answer one way rather than another. Even questions without bias may leave respondents with expectations.
  • The order or “natural” grouping of questions is often relevant. Prior previous questions may bias later questions.
  • The wording should be kept simple: no technical or specialized words.
  • The meaning should be clear. Ambiguous words, equivocal sentence structures and negatives may cause misunderstanding, possibly invalidating questionnaire results. Double negatives should be reworded as positives.

  • If a survey question actually contains more than one issue, the researcher will not know which one the respondent is answering. Care should be taken to ask one question at a time.
  • The list of possible responses should be inclusive. Respondents should not find themselves with no category that fits their situation. One solution is to use a final category for “other ________”.
  • The possible responses should be mutually exclusive. Categories should not overlap. Respondents should not find themselves in more than one category, for example in both the “married” category and the “single” category - there may be need for a “not living with spouse” category.

  • Writing style should be conversational, yet concise and accurate and appropriate to the target audience.
  • Most people will not answer personal or intimate questions.
  • “Loaded” questions evoke emotional responses and may skew results.

  • Presentation of the questions on the page (or computer screen) and use of white space, colors, pictures, charts, or other graphics may affect respondent's interest or distract from the questions.
  • Numbering of questions may be helpful.
  • Questionnaires can be administered by research staff, by volunteers or self-administered by the respondents. Clear, detailed instructions are needed in either case, matching the needs of each audience.

Types of questions

  1. Contingency questions - A question that is answered only if the respondent gives a particular response to a previous question. This avoids asking questions of people that do not apply to them (for example, asking men if they have ever been pregnant).
  2. Matrix questions - Identical response categories are assigned to multiple questions. The questions are placed one under the other, forming a matrix with response categories along the top and a list of questions down the side. This is an efficient use of page space and respondents’ time.
  3. Scaled questions - Responses are graded on a continuum (example : rate the appearance of the product on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most preferred appearance). Examples of types of scales include the Likert scale, semantic differential scale, and rank-order scale (See scale for a complete list of scaling techniques.).
  4. Closed ended questions - Respondents’ answers are limited to a fixed set of responses. Most scales are closed ended. Other types of closed ended questions include:
    • Dichotomous questions - The respondent answers with a “yes” or a “no”.
    • Multiple choice - The respondent has several option from which to choose.
  5. Open ended questions - No options or predefined categories are suggested. The respondent supplies their own answer without being constrained by a fixed set of possible responses. Examples of types of open ended questions include:
    • Completely unstructured - For example, “What is your opinion of questionnaires?”
    • Word association - Words are presented and the respondent mentions the first word that comes to mind.
    • Sentence completion - Respondents complete an incomplete sentence. For example, “The most important consideration in my decision to buy a new house is . . .”
    • Story completion - Respondents complete an incomplete story.
    • Picture completion - Respondents fill in an empty conversation balloon.
    • Thematic apperception test - Respondents explain a picture or make up a story about what they think is happening in the picture

Question sequence

  • Questions should flow logically from one to the next.
  • The researcher must ensure that the answer to a question is not influenced by previous questions.
  • Questions should flow from the more general to the more specific.
  • Questions should flow from the least sensitive to the most sensitive.
  • Questions should flow from factual and behavioural questions to attitudinal and opinion questions.
  • Questions should flow from unaided to aided questions
  • According to the three stage theory (also called the sandwich theory), initial questions should be screening and rapport questions. Then in the second stage you ask all the product specific questions. In the last stage you ask demographic questions.

See also

Lists of related topics