Tips for questionnaire design

By Thijs Verbeek August 2010
Useful tips for questionnaire desgin

How can I use a questionnaire during my research? Many students and employees are asking this question. Just Do It Easy will help you to make a survey, to do market research, formulate a questionnaire and analyse your findings. On this page you will find a respectable amount of information about market research. For example: how you can design a reliable questionnaire. Maybe we don’t have all the answers, but you will find enough information to get started with your research or analysis. Of course our service is for free, so that’s what we call: Just Do It Easy!

We try to update this page daily. So we give you the advise to visit our website regularly. You will find the newest information about: questionnaires, surveys, research designs, research methods, research rules and other market research tools.

How to design a reliable questionnaire

In a few steps we will explain, how to design a reliable questionnaire.

Step 1: preparation and questionnaire design

A good preparation is important for the whole investigation. So please first do some homework: read information about the subject you want to investigate. On our website you will find interesting books, for example about market research and customer satisfaction.

1. Start with formulating the goal of your questionnaire. What do you really want to know? How do you want to analyse your data?
2. Make a ‘definition of the problem’.
3. Try to make a schedule and make a scheme with deadlines.
4. Interpret your ‘definition of the problem’ and design a few concrete research questions.
5. The research questions are the handbook for making the questionnaire. If you ask the correct questions in the questionnaire, you get the answers to the research questions. So please take your time to formulate the right research question and questionnaire.
6. Now we can start with the arrangement of the questionnaire. Start with the most relevant and interesting questions, which are the most important for your investigation. Of course you want to know why it is important to start with the most relevant questions. Some respondents get bored after only a few questions, in this case you have at least the most important information for your investigation. Moreover respondents will have more attention for your questionnaire. So please put demographical questions at the end of your questionnaire.
7. Decide how long it may take to fill out your questionnaire. Of course not too long, in general people don’t like to fill out questionnaires.
8. Categorize your questions and put them in different groups. Your questionnaire will have a convenient arrangement. For example you put all the questions about the canteen food in the same group.
9. Check if all possible answers can be filled out in the questionnaire.
10. Ask a few colleagues or friends to fill out your questions. So you can find out if all questions are clear and you can see if all your research questions are answered.
11. Give respondents at the end of the questionnaire some space to give comment. Some respondents think it’s nice to have some space for there comment. It can also help you to get new notions about your subject.

Step 2: definition of a problem

-Use clear definitions and avoid difficult and unclear definitions, like ‘dynamic’ and ‘innovative’. If it is not possible to avoid difficult terms, please describe the term. So the respondent knows exactly what you mean.
1. Avoid the use of double denials.
2. Don’t use to much open questions. Analysing this type of questions will cost you a lot of time. Besides respondents often don’t take time to make there own answers.
3. Use concrete and clear questions. So ask one question at the time.
4. Use neutral questions. Avoid to direct respondents to a specific answer. So don’t use any type of suggestive questions. For example (incorrect): How dissatisfied are you about your job?
5. First ask some general questions and after that ask specific questions. Respondents often have a strong opinion about specific questions, if you ask the specific questions first it may influence the general questions.
6. Find a way to process and analyse your data. That is even more important when you have a large amount of data. You will find information about designing an online questionnaire.
7. Be aware of the circumstances in which you are asking questions.
8. Beware of the fact that specific questions can be ‘touchy’, this may encounter opposition. So there is a possibility that respondents don’t want to answer the questions or will give a misleading answer.
9. Don’t formulate the questions too personal or too threatening.

Step 3: Scaling

An other important aspect is the scaling. Use always positive and negative ratings. For example the 4 points rating:
1= Totally disagree
2= Disagree
3= Agree
4= Totally agree

You can also use a 5, 7 or 9 points scaling system. When using these systems, there is a neutral answer possibility. We call that the ‘Likert scaling’. This kind of scaling is mostly used. When you use ‘Likert scaling’ you have o lot of possibilities when analysing your findings. So realize that when you choose your scaling, it will effect your analysing possibilities.
Example 5 point scaling system:
1= Totally disagree
2= Disagree
3= Agree/disagree
4= Agree
5= Totally agree

• More answer possibilities are often used to get a better impression of the respondent’s opinion.
• Keep in mind the fact that respondents don’t choose the most extreme answer possibilities. They often choose the neutral answer possibility. There are a few possibilities to avoid this. One of them is to use a scaling system without a neutral answer possibility, so the respondent has to make a decision.

Step 4: Controlling and implementation

1. First try out your questionnaire. Ask a few people to fill in your questionnaire. In this way you will find things like: spelling mistakes and questions which are not clear.
2. Ask your respondents if the questions were clear. Ask them for comment and take this comment into account. This can be frustrating, because you know everything about the subject. Please keep always in mind that there is a possibility that your respondents know nothing about the subject.
3. Check if there are any spelling mistakes or stylistic lapses. Check how much time it will cost you to analyse for example 5 questionnairies. After that please calculate how much time it will cost you to analyze all the data and notice if it fits your time schedule.

Step 5. Getting a higher response

There are a few opportunities to raise number of the responses of your questionairre.

1. Ask a few people to fill out your questionnaire. Please ask them if every question is clear. Respondents will not fill out a questionnaire they don’t understand it.
2. Use a reward or incentive. For example raffle an iPod and tell about this raffle in the introduction of your questionnaire.
3. Approach your respondents by telephone and ask them permission to send your questionnaire. In this way you can send the questionnaire to the right email addresses.
4. After a few weeks please send a reminder to all the people that did not fill out your questionnaire.

Good luck en let’s go!

The Just Do It Easy Team