Basics of Developing Questionnaires
© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Adapted from the Field
Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development.
Whether developing questions for questionnaires or interviews
or focus groups, there are certain guidelines that help to ensure
that respondents provide information that is useful and can later
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Questions are geared to find out what people know, did, feel and think.
1. To find out what information they know, ask them to describe something, e.g.,
“Please describe …”
2. To find out what they feel, ask them, e.g., “How do you feel about …?”
or “How did you feel when …?”
3. To find out what they think, ask them for their opinion on something, e.g.,
“How could the .. be improved?”
4. To find out what they did, ask them to describe an activity they did.
No options are provided for the respondent to answer the question. They must
think of their own response and describe it in their own words. If respondents
have and take the time to reflect on answers to the question, you can get more
meaningful information than from closed questions.
The respondent is given a set of alternative choices from which he or she can
choose to answer the question, i.e., “yes,” “no,” multiple
choice, a rating, ranking, etc. Closed questions can usually be answered quickly,
allowing you to get a get a lot of information quickly. However, respondents
may rush through the questions and not take enough time to think about their
answers. Your choices may not include the answer they prefer.
How you configure your questions together, depends on whether they’re used
in questionnaires, interviews or focus groups.
Before you start to design your questions, clearly
articulate what problem or need is to be addressed using the information
to be gathered by the questions. Review why you’re doing the evaluation
and what you hope to accomplish by it. This provides focus on
what information you need and, ultimately, on what questions should
be used. (See Planning Your Program Evaluation.)
Directions to Respondents
- Include a brief explanation of the purpose of the questionnaire.
- Include clear explanation of how to complete the questionnaire.
- Include directions about where to provide the completed questionnaire.
- Note conditions of confidentiality, e.g., who will have access
to the information, if you’re going to attempt to keep their answers
private and only accessed by yourself and/or someone who will
collate answers. (Note that you not guarantee confidentiality
about their answers. If a court sued to see answers, you would
not likely be able to stop access to this information. However,
you can assure that you will make every reasonable attempt to
protect access to their answers. You should consider using an
informed consent form,
Content of Questions
- Ask about what you need to know, i.e., get information
in regard to the goals or ultimate questions you want to address
by the evaluation.
- Will the respondent be able to answer your question, i.e.,
do they know the answer?
- Will respondents want to answer the question, i.e., is it too
private or silly?
Wording of Questions
- Will the respondent understand the wording, i.e.,
are you using any slang, cultural-specific or technical words?
- Are any words so strong that they might influence the respondent
to answer a certain way? Attempt to avoid use of strong adjectives
with nouns in the questions, e.g., “highly effective government,”
“prompt and reliable,” etc.
- To ensure you’re asking one question at a time, avoid use of
the word “and” in your question.
- Avoid using “not” in your questions if you’re having
respondents answer “yes” or “no” to a question.
Use of “not” can lead to double negatives, and cause
- If you use multiple choice questions, be sure your choices
are mutually exclusive and encompass the total range of answers.
Respondents should not be confused about whether two or more alternatives
appear to mean the same thing. Respondents also should not have
a clearly preferred answer that is not among the alternative choices
of an answer to the question.
Order of Questions
- Be careful not to include so many questions that potential
respondents are dissuaded from responding.
- Attempt to get recruit respondents’ motivation to complete
the questionnaire. Start with fact-based questions and then go
on to opinion-based questions, e.g., ask people for demographic
information about themselves and then go on to questions about
their opinions and perspectives. This gets respondents engaged
in the questionnaire and warmed up before more challenging and
reflective questions about their opinions. (Consider if they can
complete the questionnaire anonymously; if so, indicate this on
the form where you ask for their name.)
- Attempt to get respondents’ commentary in addition to their
ratings, e.g., if the questionnaire ask respondents to choose
an answer by circling an answer or provide a rating, ask them
to provide commentary that explains their choices.
- Include a question to get respondents’ impressions of the questionnaire
itself. For example, ask them if the questionnaire was straightforward
to complete (“yes” or “no), and if not, to provide
suggestions about how to improve the questionnaire.
- Pilot or test your questionnaire on a small group of clients
or fellow staff. Ask them if the form and questions seemed straightforward.
Carefully review the answers on the questionnaires. Does the information
answer the evaluation questions or provide what you want to know
about the program or its specific services? What else would you
like to know?
- Finalize the questionnaire. Finalize the questionnaire according
to results of the pilot. Put a date on the form so you can keep
track of all future versions.
For the Category of Evaluations (Many Kinds):
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