A general introduction to the design of questionnaires for survey research
The basic process of survey research can be outlined as follows:
1. define your research aims
2. identify the population and sample
3. decide how to collect replies
4. design your questionnaire
5. run a pilot survey
6. carry out the main survey
7. analyse the data
A crucial part of good research design concerns making sure that the questionnaire design addresses the needs of the research.
Define Your Research Aims
Start your survey by setting down the aims for the survey. To define the aims for academic research you will need to review the relevant literature and you may need to do some preliminary research amongst your target subjects. Fulfilling these aims should then drive the design of your questionnaire and help select questions that are relevant, concise and efficient.
Identify the Population and Sample
The population is simply all the members of the group that you are interested in. A key issue in choosing the sample relates to whether the members you have chosen are representative of the population. Often the sample is chosen randomly from a list that contains all the members of the population.
Decide How to Collect Replies
Decide whether the survey is to be completed by the respondent directly or through an interviewer, and design the questionnaire, and any other documents, accordingly. It is important in both circumstances to explain to the potential respondent why you believe they should answer the questions, doing so persuasively can improve response rate. Where the questionnaire is administered by post, or e-mail or some other indirect means, it is usual practice to provide a letter that explains what the questionnaire is about and why its completion is of value.
Design of the questionnaire can be split into three elements:
a) determine the questions to be asked,
b) select the question type for each question and specify the wording, and
c) design the question sequence and overall questionnaire layout.
Decide on a Layout and Sequence
It is good practice to ensure that the questionnaire has a title and that the revision or date of the version is printed on the questionnaire. A brief introductory statement is useful, especially if the introductory letter could go adrift. Contact and return information should be included on the questionnaire. Similarly it is good practice to number or otherwise identify individual questions for reference purposes.
Different types of questions can be used, e.g. open vs. closed,single vs.multiple responses, ranking, and rating.
Many advise against using open-ended questions and advocate using closed questions. However, open questions can be useful. For example, the open question:
What do you think are the reasons for football hooliganism?
would elicit a whole range of replies of varying length and articulation.
Decide on Question Wording
Some general rules can be stated on question wording:
• Be concise and unambiguous
• Avoid double questions
• Avoid questions involving negatives
• Ask for precise answers
• Avoid leading questions
Run a Pilot Survey
Test the questionnaire on a small sample of your subjects first.If this is not possible, at least test it on some colleagues or friends. The aim here is to detect any flaws in your questioning and correct these prior to the main survey. Having done your pilot survey, you can make amendments that will help to maximise your response rate and minimise your error rate on answers.
Carry Out the Main Survey
Identify Respondents and Keep Track of Status
A simple database is useful to keep track of when questionnaires were sent out and to whom.
Number Each Questionnaire
Each individual questionnaire must be uniquely identified by you, preferably before it is distributed or, to preserve anonymity, afterwards. This identification could be via a number, or letters and numbers.
Deliver the Questionnaire
Deadlines for distribution should have been decided earlier with allowances for sending out reminders or carrying out follow up calls.
Analyse the Data
A precursor to analysis is the coding, entry and checking of data.In all instances data can either be entered direct or imported from otherpackages such as Excel, provided the instructions for the receiving package areadhered to.