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Knowing how to design a questionnaire or survey is an important skill for beginner researchers including students who are writing their dissertation, research project or thesis. In this article I will teach you how to design a questionnaire and give you plenty of helpful tips and tricks. I will make this SIMPLE so that you are clear on how to design a questionnaire AND get top marks for it! So what are you waiting for? Read on…

What is a questionnaire?

How to design a questionnaire

A questionnaire, also known as a survey is a series of written questions in a fixed, rational order. A questionnaire is an instrument (form) that is used to collect answers to questions and to collect factual data. Questionnaires are often used in research projects and dissertations as well as in marketing.

Types of questionnaires distribution

There are different ways to distribute, or hand out, a questionnaire. The two main methods are:

  • Self-administered questionnaires
  • Instigator (interviewer administered questionnaires

There are pros and cons to using either type of questionnaire and you should decide which type is more appropriate for your specific research project.

Benefits of self-administered questionnaires include:

  • They are cheap and easy to administer
  • It allows for the answers to be anonymous
  • Questionnaires can be completed at respondent’s convenience
  • There is no influence by interviewer

However there are also disadvantages of self-administered questionnaires, which includes:

  • You may have a low response rate because not everybody will complete it
  • Questions can be misunderstood
  • Participation by illiterate people or people with language barriers is rather difficult

There are also pros and cons to using questionnaires that are completed by the interviewer. Benefits include:

  • Participation by illiterate people or people is easier
  • Interviewees can ask for clarification if they are unsure about any of the questions
  • You can be quick answers
  • The response rate may be higher

Limitations of interviewer-led questionnaires include:

  • There may be some interviewer bias
  • This requires a lot of time and effort
  • It can be difficult for sensitive issues

How to design a questionnaire

How to design a questionnaire

OK, now it is time to examine how to design a questionnaire. Here are the main things that you should consider from the offset:

1- What are the questionnaire objectives? (what are you trying to achieve)

2- What format do you want to use and why? (paper, online, telephone etc)

3- What questions do you need to ask to gather the required information?

4- What is the best way to word the questions?

5- How will you structure your questionnaire? What will the layout be like?

6- Once you have written a draft, test the questionnaire on a few people to check that respondents are likely to understand it

7- Correct any issues before conducting your research

When you are designing your research questions you ask yourself three things:

  • Are the questions relevant?
  • Do respondents have the necessary information?
  • Do respondents understand and interpret the question correctly?

When you design your questions you should choose whether they will be open questions or closed questions.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that do not have a fixed response, i.e. the person being asked is free to answer as they wish. Examples of open ended questions could be ‘What do you look for most in a job?’ or ‘Is there anything else you would like to add about the product?’

Open-ended questions can be good because:

  • They have a wide range of responses and information that can be obtained
  • Answers are based on respondent’s not researcher’s frame of reference
  • There is a lack of influence
  • The researcher can help to interpret closed-ended questions (e.g. why)
  • This is useful when there are too many possible responses to be listed or unknown

However, there are disadvantages too, which include:

  • The ability and/or willingness of respondent to answer (it requires some effort on their part)
  • It can be challenging for the researcher to record answers quickly or summarise accurately
  • It can be time consuming (data collection and analysis)
  • Long open-ended answers can be difficult to analysis and code
  • It requires respondents to be articulate
  • Respondents may miss important points

Closed questions

Closed questions are those that do have fixed responses. A example could be ‘What do you look for most in a job?’ and there are a set responses to choose from, which could be:

1- Work that pays well

2- Work that gives a sense of accomplishment

3- Work where you make most decisions by yourself

4- Work that is steady with little chance of being laid off

There are pros and cons to choosing closed questions too. Benefits using closed questions includes:

  • It is easy to understand
  • It requires less effort
  • It is easy to analyse and put into tables, graphs etc
  • There is less interviewer bias
  • It is less time consuming
  • Answers are directly comparable from respondent to respondent

And disadvantages of using closed questions includes:

  • Less opportunity for self-expression or to provide longer, more detailed responses
  • Prescribed answers may not always fit what the respondent wants to say

Scaled questions

When you are deciding how to design your questionnaire you may decide that scaled questions best fit your research project. These are closed-ended questions where the response choices are designed to capture an intensity of feeling. The most common type of scaled questions use a Likert scale.

Scaled questions can be good because they are easy to code and you can use statistical tools to get some high quality quantitative data collection and analysis. The main problem that researchers tend to encounter with scaled questions is that respondents do not fully understand how to answer the question.

There are a few things to avoid when using scaled questions. These include:

  • Complexity: use simple, direct, conversational language
  • Leading questions that suggest or imply certain answers (e.g. Do you agree that the hotel staff were close to exhaustion?)
  • Loaded questions ( e.g. Have you purchased a high quality Sony TV this year?)
  • Ambiguity and vagueness: Words such as “often”, “occasionally”, “usually”, “regularly”, “frequently”, “many”, should be used with caution. If these words have to be used, their meaning should be explained properly
  • Long-worded questions: These can be difficult to understand
  • Double-barreled questions: questions that refer to two or more issues within the same question. Where respondent may agree with only 1 part of multipart statement. e.g. Do you think Nike offers better pricing and variety than other brands? oYes oNo
  • Jargon
  • Burdensome questions that may tax the respondent’s memory e.g. How many conferences did you attend in the last 10 years?
  • Embarrassing, sensitive, or threatening questions e.g. Have you charged more on your credit card than you should

General tips for designing a questionnaire

How to design a questionnaire

When you are designing a questionnaire the most important thing is that you get as many responses that are accurate as possible. This means that you want to make sure that you design your questionnaire to be simple and easy to understand for those who will be completing it. Some general tips on how to do this include:

  • Ask one question at a time (do not combine questions)
  • Be accurate and specific
  • Be appropriate
  • Be objective
  • Keep it simple

Questionnaire format

When you are designing a questionnaire you want to have a smart and clean format that encourages respondents to accurately complete the survey.

Qualifying questions

When you design your questionnaire may wish to start with a qualifying question. This is generally necessary if you only wish to include particular types of people in your research. For example, you may wish to speak to people that are only of a certain age, who live in a particular location or who have travelled to a certain destination. If you need to include a qualifying question this will usually be close to the top of your questionnaire.

Most research will require you to get informed consent. This is simple- it is literally just asking the respondent to agree to being part of your research. Usually your questionnaire will start with a small brief of what the project is about and it will ask if they are happy to proceed.

Opening questions

It is a good idea to make your opening questions simple and easy for the respondent to understand- you do not want to frighten them off! Avoid using complicated words or jargon that some people may not understand.

Order of questions

When you design a questionnaire you should make sure that the questions are appropriate to your project. For example, if age does not matter for your research topic then do not include a question about age!

You will also want to make sure that your questions flow logically. Try to order them in a way that makes sense and is logical.

How to design a questionnaire layout

When you design a questionnaire layout is very important. You should try to keep your questionnaire as short as possible and as simple as possible. If you include open-ended questions make sure that you leave lots of space for people to write. Make sure that the questionnaire design is easy to read and that the font size is big enough and clear enough. You may wish to include colour in your questionnaire to make it visually appealing including coloured fonts or paper.

If you choose to administer your questionnaire online, you may be limited in design features, I suggest that you first take a look at some example questionnaires to see if they have the look that you aspire to achieve.

How to design a questionnaire- further reading

If you are completing a research project or dissertation then I am sure that you will find these articles really helpful!