develop a questionnaire for research

How to develop a questionnaire for research: useful tips and good example

Many surveys are conducted using questionnaires. This form of empirical research is very valuable for obtaining information about a particular population, group, community, concept or idea. The questionnaire is used for research in various disciplines such as psychology, sociology, education, and business.

Types of questionnaires

The two main types of questionnaires include self-administered and proctored or administered questionnaires. The self-administered forms are ones in which the respondent is expected to independently answer the survey questions while the proctored surveys are ones in which the questions are asked by an interviewer. The first category can either be done in-person (in which surveys are handed out) via the postal mail, electronically or online. Likewise, administered surveys can either be accomplished face to face or over the telephone. And the success rate of each can depend on several factors including your target population and how well they respond to each method.

Research objectives

A good question to ask before you begin your research is, What do I want to get out of my survey? When conducting research the goal of the researcher is to obtain as much suitable information as possible to help him or her come to a reasonable conclusion regarding their posed research question. Therefore, when sending out or administering a survey the hope is to receive a very high response rate from responders as well as the most correct and accurate information possible. Though many things can influence this, your goal should be to get as close to achieving this as possible. And many factors that will come into play are how you plan, format, and administer your research questionnaire.

Before you start

Before you can even formulate your first survey question you need to have a game plan in place to get the most out of every question asked.

1. What do you want to find out?

Using your research question you should be able to identify the dependent, independent, and confounding variables that need to be investigated. The dependent variables are the things that you care the most about (for instance if conducting a survey on eating habits these would be the specific eating habits of the respondents). The independent variables are things which are connected or related to the dependent variables (such as, education, income and socioeconomic status etc.). And finally, confounding variables are those things which affect the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

2. What is your target population?

Accurately identify the group of people that can best help you answer the questions you have constructed. This includes pinpointing their geographic location, the best means of reaching them, and other important factors. For instance, if creating a questionnaire on eating habits in general you will likely be better off questioning an adult or head of household about eating habits rather than a child or teenager.

3. What is your method of administration and your method of analysis?

Firstly, you must consider the most effective means of administrating your survey to your target population. If questioning senior citizens for example, you may like to consider a telephone or face to face survey. Though if surveying young adults you may find that an online survey would be more suitable for that age group.
Additionally, you must identify exactly how you will go about interpreting the results you find. This isn't as complicated as it may sound. A key point to remember when preparing surveys is that closed questions (that provide only pre-selected answers) for example, will yield quantitative results, while open-ended questions (such as an interview-style survey) will yield more qualitative results; which are subsequently harder to measure.

Designing your questionnaire

Types of questions

There are three basic types of questions that you can offer your respondents;
  1. Closed: Closed options are questions most common to surveys; they only provide the responder with a designated set of answers. The responder is forced to choose one of the options listed.
  2. Open: These questions are open-ended and require that the responder speak, write, or type out their answer to a particular question.
  3. Open-response option: This form of questioning is ideal for many circumstances. It combines between both open ended and closed forms. For instance, the question may prompt the responder by providing a list of possible answers but then also insert an "other" category to allow for some variations from that list of answers.

Sample questionnaire

Please see below for sample questions using various types of questioning.

Eating habits

1. How likely are you to buy organic foods from the market?

Not At AllSomewhat LikelyLikelyVery LikelyExtremely Likely

2. How often do you eat from a fast food or take out restaurant?

  1. at least twice a week
  2. once a week
  3. twice a month
  4. once a month
  5. not at all

3. Please rank the importance of each item with 5 being the least important 1 being the most important.

______ eating at least 5 vegetables a day
______ buying from a store that supports fair trading
______ drinking juices that are 100% juice
______ avoiding processed foods such as chicken nuggets

Other important issues to consider

When preparing your questionnaire other things that you should consider include (a) word choice (b) question order (c) and survey layout. The words you choose will significantly impact the way in which your questionnaire is perceived by respondents. Choose clear and precise words that are easy and simple to understand as well as try and avoid negatives and bias questions.
Secondly, the way in which you arrange your questions should also reflect a bit of planning such as, general to specific or a mix of closed, open and open-option questions. The order should consider the best means of encouraging the respondent to answer all questions as accurately as possible. Lastly, the survey layout should include things such as an administrative box for evaluating each survey, proper spacing, easy-to-read fonts, and basic instructions as well as a cover letter (explaining to the respondent why you are conducting the survey and how they may contact you).

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