Basics of Developing Questionnaires

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    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
    be analyzed.

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Types of Information Collected by Questions
    Two Types of Questions

    Key Preparation
    Directions to Respondents
    Content of the Questions
    Wording of the Questions
    Order of the Questions

    Also consider
    Related Library Topics
    There Is No Hope Of Doing Perfect Research
    Creating and Implementing Your Data Collection Plan

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    Types of Information Collected by Questions

    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.

    Two Types of Questions

    1. Open-ended:
    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.

    2. Closed:
    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.

    Key Preparation

    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

    1. Include a brief explanation of the purpose of the questionnaire.
    2. Include clear explanation of how to complete the questionnaire.
    3. Include directions about where to provide the completed questionnaire.
    4. 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,
      as well.)

    Content of Questions

    1. 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.
    2. Will the respondent be able to answer your question, i.e.,
      do they know the answer?
    3. Will respondents want to answer the question, i.e., is it too
      private or silly?

    Wording of Questions

    1. Will the respondent understand the wording, i.e.,
      are you using any slang, cultural-specific or technical words?
    2. 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.
    3. To ensure you’re asking one question at a time, avoid use of
      the word “and” in your question.
    4. 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
    5. 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

    1. Be careful not to include so many questions that potential
      respondents are dissuaded from responding.
    2. 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.)
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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?
    6. 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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