This article duplicates the scope of other articles. (September 2016)
Questionnaire construction refers to the design of a questionnaire to gather statistically useful information about a given topic. When properly constructed and responsibly administered, questionnaires can provide valuable data about any given subject.
Questionnaires are frequently used in quantitative marketing research and social research. They are a valuable method of collecting a wide range of information from a large number of individuals, often referred to as respondents.
What is often referred to as "adequate questionnaire construction" is critical to the success of a survey. Inappropriate questions, incorrect ordering of questions, incorrect scaling, or a bad questionnaire format can make the survey results valueless, as they may not accurately reflect the views and opinions of the participants.
Different methods can be useful for checking a questionnaire and making sure it is accurately capturing the intended information. Initial advice may include:
Empirical tests also provide insight into the quality of the questionnaire. This can be done by:
Before constructing a questionnaire survey, it is advisable to consider how the results of the research will be used. If the results won't influence the decision-making process, budgets won't allow implementing the findings, or the cost of research outweighs its usefulness, then there is little purpose in conducting the research.
The research objective(s) and frame-of-reference should be defined beforehand, including the questionnaire's context of time, budget, manpower, intrusion and privacy. The types of questions (e.g.: closed, multiple-choice, open) should fit the data analysis techniques available and the goals of the survey.
The manner (random or not) and location (sampling frame) for selecting respondents will determine whether the findings will be representative of the larger population.
The level of measurement - known as the scale, index, or typology - will determine what can be concluded from the data. A yes/no question will only reveal how many of the sample group answered yes or no, lacking the resolution to determine an average response. The nature of the expected responses should be defined and retained for interpretation.
A common method is to "research backwards" in building a questionnaire by first determining the information sought (i.e., Brand A is more/less preferred by x% of the sample vs. Brand B, and y% vs. Brand C), then being certain to ask all the needed questions to obtain the metrics for the report. Unneeded questions should be avoided, as they are an expense to the researcher and an unwelcome imposition on the respondents. All questions should contribute to the objective(s) of the research.
Topics should fit the respondents' frame of reference, as their background may affect their interpretation of the questions. Respondents should have enough information or expertise to answer the questions truthfully. Writing style should be conversational, yet concise and accurate and appropriate to the target audience and subject matter. The wording should be kept simple, without technical or specialized vocabulary. 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.
Questions and prepared responses (for multiple-choice) 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 grouping of questions is also relevant; early questions may bias later questions. Loaded questions evoke emotional responses and may skew results.
The list of prepared responses should be collectively exhaustive; one solution is to use a final write-in category for "other ________". The possible responses should also be mutually exclusive, without overlap. Respondents should not find themselves in more than one category, for example in both the "married" category and the "single" category (in such a case there may be need for separate questions on marital status and living situation).
Many people will not answer personal or intimate questions. For this reason, questions about age, income, marital status, etc. are generally placed at the end of the survey. This way, even if the respondent refuses to answer these questions, he/she will have already answered the research questions.
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
There are a number of channels, or modes, that can be used to administer a questionnaire. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and therefore a researcher will generally need to tailor their questionnaire to the modes they will be using. For example, a questionnaire designed to be filled-out on paper may not operate in the same way when administered by telephone. These mode effects may be substantial enough that they threaten the validity of the research.
Using multiple modes can improve access to the population of interest when some members have different access, or have particular preferences.
|Method||Benefits and cautions|
The way that a question is phrased can have a large impact on how a research participant will answer the question. Thus, survey researchers must be conscious of their wording when writing survey questions. It is important for researchers to keep in mind that different individuals, cultures, and subcultures can interpret certain words and phrases differently from one another.
There are two different types of questions that survey researchers use when writing a questionnaire: free-response questions and closed questions. Free-response questions are open-ended, whereas closed questions are usually multiple-choice. Free-response questions are beneficial because they allow the responder greater flexibility, but they are also very difficult to record and score, requiring extensive coding. Contrastingly, closed questions can be scored and coded much easier, but they diminish expressivity and spontaneity of the responder.
In general, the vocabulary of a question should be very simple and direct, and preferably under twenty words. Each question should be edited for readability and should avoid leading or loaded questions. If multiple questions are being used to measure one construct, some of the questions should be worded in the opposite direction to evade response bias.
A respondent's answer to an open-ended question can be coded into a response scale afterwards, or analysed using more qualitative methods.
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Questions should flow logically, from the general to the specific, from least to most sensitive, from factual and behavioral matters to attitudes and opinions. When semi-automated, they should flow from unaided to aided questions. The researcher should ensure that the answer to a question is not influenced by previous questions.