How to Perfect Your Research Questionnaire

Questionnaire writing is one area where market research firms have an advantage over the amateur researcher, but if you invest sufficent time checking and validating your questions, then you can still achieve positive results.

—Getting the questionnaire right can make or break a survey and a skilled market researcher understands this. While they may have a vast wealth of experience designing and editing questionnaires, this may be the first time for a fledging entrepreneur. There are a number of hints and tips you can follow to help you get it right.
—Before you start to write your questionnaire, think about what you really want to achieve from each question. Don’t include questions that won’t enhance your understanding of the market, it’s a waste of your time and your participants.
—Once you have started preparing your questions, try to take a step back and think about the types of answers you are likely to get and whether this will be good enough to base your decisions on. Read through your questionnaire and think about how you would respond to the questions.

—Closed questions warrant only a short response, while open ended questions allow the respondent to expand on their answer. Have you included a good mix of both open and closed questions?

—Often when a client comes to me with a predetermined set of questions it is clear that they haven’t thought about what types of responses they will get. We speak to the client and ask them what they want to get out of the survey, what it is for and what the key points are that they need to find out. So many times when we review their questions afterwards, it become very apparent that they would not have solved anything with the questions they were proposing to ask!

  •  —Look at the order of the questions, do they flow logically, is the context for each question clear?
  • If you have to make assumptions about your audience, assume they know nothing! Don’t use jargon that is likely to throw people off.
  • Explain questions clearly and precisely. People are giving up their time to answer your questionnaire, and they will switch off very quickly if your questions don’t make perfect sense.
  • You also need to make sure that questions are clear so that you can be confident that they are being interpreted in the same way.
  • Share the questionnaire with a friend, family member of colleague to get some objective feedback.
  • —Run through the questions with someone and get their responses. Look at how they respond to the questions unprompted.

This stage will undoubtedly throw up things in your questionnaire that you have overlooked, refine as necessary and don’t be afraid to repeat this stage a few times. Also, explain what you are hoping to achieve from the survey, and get their opinion on whether they think this set of questions will help you achieve this.

—Have a think about the sensitivity of the questions. Would you be willing to give away the information you are asking for? If your survey is business to business, are you asking for people to reveal any IP or anything that might give others a competitive advantage?

  • When you a talking about sensitive numbers, be it salary, budget, weight etc. people are often happier to give a range rather than an actual number.
  • You can also ask for trends rather than absolute figures. I.e. people might be willing to tell you how much something as changed over a certain period
Test the questionnaire with a small sample of real respondents to see how it works in practice.—Test it out for real. Give the questionnaire to member of the public get their responses to the questions but also ask for their feedback on the survey. Did everything make sense? Where there any questions that they didn’t feel comfortable answering?

  • How long did it take to get through? People won’t like spending ages working their way through your questionnaire, especially if you are asking them to do it for nothing in return. Where you do have a very long questionnaire, it is not unusual to see the quality of the answers tail off towards the end of the survey. For instance, if you are using lots of open ended questions, don’t be surprised to see fully formed paragraphs at the beginning, and rough notes at the end of the survey. This can make it more difficult to analyse the data and dilutes the credibility of your results.
  • Does the data show what you were hoping? Do you need to reword some of the questions, or tweak the order a little? Maybe you need to add in a supplemental question somewhere? Now is the time to do it before you take your questionnaire to the masses.