Questionnaire Design Process

Definition: Questionnaire is a systematic, data collection technique consists of a series of questions required to be answered by the respondents to identify their attitude, experience, and behavior towards the subject of research.

One of the most critical parts of the survey is the creation of questions that must be framed in such a way that it results in obtaining the desired information from the respondents.  There are no scientific principles that assure an ideal questionnaire and in fact, the questionnaire design is the skill which is learned through experience.

Questionnaire Design Process


The following steps are involved in the questionnaire design process:

  1. Specify the Information Needed: The first and the foremost step in designing the questionnaire is to specify the information needed from the respondents such that the objective of the survey is fulfilled. The researcher must completely review the components of the problem, particularly the hypothesis, research questions, and the information needed.
  2. Define the Target Respondent: At the very outset, the researcher must identify the target respondent from whom the information is to be collected. The questions must be designed keeping in mind the type of respondents under study. Such as, the questions that are appropriate for serviceman might not be appropriate for a businessman. The less diversified respondent group shall be selected because the more diversified the group is, the more difficult it will be to design a single questionnaire that is appropriate for the entire group.
  3. Specify the type of Interviewing Method: The next step is to identify the way in which the respondents are reached. In personal interviews, the respondent is presented with a questionnaire and interacts face-to-face with the interviewer. Thus, lengthy, complex and varied questions can be asked using the personal interview method. In telephone interviews, the respondent is required to give answers to the questions over the telephone. Here the respondent cannot see the questionnaire and hence this method restricts the use of small, simple and precise questions.

    The questionnaire can be sent through mail or post. It should be self-explanatory and contain all the important information such that the respondent is able to understand every question and gives a complete response. The electronic questionnaires are sent directly to the mail ids of the respondents and are required to give answers online.

  4. Determine the Content of Individual Questions: Once the information needed is specified and the interviewing methods are determined, the next step is to decide the content of the question. The researcher must decide on what should be included in the question such that it contribute to the information needed or serve some specific purpose.

    In some situations, the indirect questions which are not directly related to the information needed may be asked. It is useful to ask neutral questions at the beginning of a questionnaire with intent to establish respondent’s involvement and rapport. This is mainly done when the subject of a questionnaire is sensitive or controversial. The researcher must try to avoid the use of double-barreled questions. A question that talks about two issues simultaneously, such as Is the Real juice tasty and a refreshing health drink?

  5. Overcome Respondent’s Inability and Unwillingness to Answer: The researcher should not presume that the respondent can provide accurate responses to all the questions. He must attempt to overcome the respondent’s inability to answer. The questions must be designed in a simple and easy language such that it is easily understood by each respondent. In situations, where the respondent is not at all informed about the topic of interest, then the researcher may ask the filter questions, an initial question asked in the questionnaire to identify the prospective respondents to ensure that they fulfil the requirements of the sample.

    Despite being able to answer the question, the respondent is unwilling to devote time in providing information. The researcher must attempt to understand the reason behind such unwillingness and design the questionnaire in such a way that it helps in retaining the respondent’s attention.

  6. Decide on the Question Structure: The researcher must decide on the structure of questions to be included in the questionnaire. The question can be structured or unstructured. The unstructured questions are the open-ended questions which are answered by the respondents in their own words. These questions are also called as a free-response or free-answer questions.

    While, the structured questions are called as closed-ended questions that pre-specify the response alternatives. These questions could be a multiple choice question, dichotomous (yes or no) or a scale.

  7. Determine the Question Wording: The desired question content and structure must be translated into words which are easily understood by the respondents. At this step, the researcher must translate the questions in easy words such that the information received from the respondents is similar to what was intended.

    In case the question is written poorly, then the respondent might refuse to answer it or might give a wrong answer. In case, the respondent is reluctant to give answers, then “nonresponse” arises which increases the complexity of data analysis. On the other hand, if the wrong information is given, then “ response error” arises due to which the result is biassed.

  8. Determine the Order of Questions: At this step, the researcher must decide the sequence in which the questions are to be asked. The opening questions are crucial in establishing respondent’s involvement and rapport, and therefore, these questions must be interesting, non-threatening and easy. Usually, the open-ended questions which ask respondents for their opinions are considered as good opening questions, because people like to express their opinions.
  9. Identify the Form and Layout: The format, positioning and spacing of questions has a significant effect on the results. The layout of a questionnaire is specifically important for the self-administered questionnaires. The questionnaires must be divided into several parts, and each part shall be numbered accurately to clearly define the branches of a question.
  10. Reproduction of Questionnaire: Here, we talk about the appearance of the questionnaire, i.e. the quality of paper on which the questionnaire is either written or printed. In case, the questionnaire is reproduced on a poor-quality paper; then the respondent might feel the research is unimportant due to which the quality of response gets adversely affected.

    Thus, it is recommended to reproduce the questionnaire on a good-quality paper having a professional appearance. In case, the questionnaire has several pages, then it should be presented in the form of a booklet rather than the sheets clipped or stapled together.

  11. Pretesting: Pretesting means testing the questionnaires on a few selected respondents or a small sample of actual respondents with a purpose of improving the questionnaire by identifying and eliminating the potential problems. All the aspects of the questionnaire must be tested such as question content, structure, wording, sequence, form and layout, instructions, and question difficulty. The researcher must ensure that the respondents in the pretest should be similar to those who are to be finally surveyed.

Thus, the questionnaire design is a multistage process that requires the researcher’s attention to many details.

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