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What Is a Research Questionnaire?
A research questionnaire is a tool that consists of a series of standardized questions with the intent of collecting information from a sample of people. Think of it as a kind of written interview that follows a fixed scheme to ensure that data remains accurate. The questions included in the survey questionnaire can be both qualitative and quantitative in nature, depending on the researcher’s objectives. For instance, a consumer questionnaire may help researchers gain market feedback on the company’s products and services for further development. Employers can also assess the satisfaction level of staff members through an employee questionnaire. Questionnaires may be distributed in the form of online surveys, paid surveys, or face-to-face encounters to acquire feedback, opinions, or personal input from respondents.
“Surveys that opened with a simple, multiple-choice question had an 89% completion rate on average.” (Source: SurveyMonkey)
“More 3-option items can be administered per unit of time than 4- or 5-option items in a multiple-choice question.” (Source: Ohio State University)
“For a five-minute questionnaire, we can usually ask 7–8 questions. For a ten minute questionnaire, we can usually ask up to 14–16 questions.” (Source: GlobalWebIndex)
Types of Research Questionnaires
There are various research questionnaires in practice. Knowing which type of questionnaire to use usually depends on what your objectives are, what kind of data has to be collected, and what you intend to do with those answers. The right type of questions will help lower the chances of respondents abandoning the questionnaire or leaving you with a half-filled version of what should be.
1. Open-Ended Questionnaires
Questions that offer respondents the opportunity to voice out their feelings and opinions on a matter are known as open-format or open-ended questions. Allowing people to express themselves on paper offers you real and perceptional responses that are often unexpected. This type of questionnaire is generally used to draw personal feedbacks and suggestions from respondents, making the data more original and valuable for researchers to use. The only downside that concerns most researchers is how these questions require a bit more time and effort to analyze. So if you do include this type of survey questions, it’s best to keep them to a minimum.
2. Closed-Ended Questionnaires
Questions that provide multiple options as answers that respondents can select from are called closed-ended questions. They are a lot quicker for people to respond to due to how easy it is to compare answers with one another. Closed-ended questions can also help clarify the meaning of a question for a respondent to comprehend. Questionnaires that fall under this category include the following:
3. Mixed Questionnaires
As the name suggests, mixed questionnaires combine open-ended and closed-ended formats into one question. It is typically used in the fields of social and market research as it allows respondents to be more flexible with their answers. These questions must be constructed carefully to guide readers in providing the correct data.
4. Pictorial Questionnaires
These are the questions you’re likely to find in study materials for children. A pictorial questionnaire comes in a similar format as a multiple-choice questionnaire but with images as partners for visual support. Although they aren’t common in the field of commercial research, those in the academe are known for applying these types of questions in their questionnaires to cater to younger audiences. Not only can this capture the interests of respondents, but it also makes it easier to compare and analyze the options provided.
How to Make an Effective Research Questionnaire
Never underestimate the power of asking the right questions. Good survey questions need to be delivered in specific ways and in varying levels of detail to generate the correct information from an audience. While you might have a ton of questions you want to ask, it’s impossible to gather the desired answers if you fail to communicate effectively. The key to successful questionnaire writing is to know where to begin with the development, wording, organization, and testing of your questionnaire design.
Step 1: Identify the Goals of Your Research Questionnaire
What is your main objective? You won’t be the first person who has done a study on a particular topic in the past five months. Ideally, there are many existing questionnaires with published results on the statistical analysis of all tested questions that you could use to garner similar results. However, applying these questions on a commercial basis won’t be as easy as it is in academic research. Your research aims must always be taken into consideration to address specific aspects of the study accordingly.
Step 2: Define Your Target Respondents
It pays to focus on who your respondents are and how you can squeeze the right information out from them. One way to acquire valid and accurate outcomes for your study is to identify who your respondents should be. This allows you to build strategies that will interest respondents, secure engagement, and encourage them to be honest with their answers. Getting to know your audience will help you obtain insights on who your respondents are, what they know about your topic, and how they may benefit from your research.
Step 3: Create Questions
This is arguably the most challenging part of writing a questionnaire. Questions must be phrased in a certain way to avoid ambiguities or misunderstandings that could stall your efforts or hurt your data. Quite frankly, there’s no point in evaluating data drawn from confused or apathetic participants who only want to finish the questionnaire for the sake of it. Hence, it’s best to consider the cognitive, attentional, and sensory competencies of your respondent group when creating your questionnaire.
Step 4: Choose an Appropriate Question Type
Since we’ve already discussed the different types of questions in a research questionnaire, it’s time to put what you’ve learned to the test. Each type of questionnaire has its fair share of benefits and drawbacks that are worth considering to develop a sound questionnaire design that works. If you have your doubts about which type to apply, you can experiment with whichever kind and make the final adjustments based on the results of your pilot test.
Step 5: Design the Sequence and Layout of Questions
Useful questionnaires need to be clear and coherent for respondents to want to answer it. A poorly organized questionnaire can be a visual overkill for respondents, prompting them to feel discouraged before they even get the chance to skim through the entire material. The overall flow and layout of your questionnaire can make a significant difference in how it is perceived. Transitions, numbering, and even the white space between questions must be positioned strategically to prevent questions from being skipped or missed. Fortunately, there are many questionnaire templates that may be downloaded for free to ensure your questionnaire design meets all the requirements.
Research Questionnaire vs. Research Survey
You’ve probably heard these two terms being used interchangeably, or have even done so yourself. While it’s easy to see why people tend to refer to questionnaires and surveys as synonyms, it’s essential to know the differences between the two.
A research questionnaire is an instrument used to gather data from a set of questions. Cases in which questionnaires are most useful include building an email list, processing payments or donations, or collecting individual accounts for a project. But unlike research surveys, questionnaires do not garner legitimate responses from participants. That’s because questionnaires are relatively limited in scope, making it unsuitable for analyzing the trends and behavior of a particular subject. Although a questionnaire is often regarded as an integral part of a survey, a survey may not necessarily be the intention of a questionnaire.
- Instrument used for data collection
- Is a tool that is distributed
- May contain open- or closed-ended questions
- Collects information on a topic
- Process of gathering and analyzing data
- Is an activity that is conducted
- Mainly comprised of closed-ended questions
- Aims to draw data for statistical analysis
The Dos and Don’ts of a Research Questionnaire
One of the dangers when writing a research questionnaire is not asking the right questions or providing enough answers to generate the data needed for the study. This may leave you with information you won’t be able to use, or worse, it could even lead your research in the wrong direction. The key to designing a valid questionnaire is to ensure that your questions are precise, targeted, and well-formulated.
1. Do use simple language.
If you want to garner a positive response rate from your audience, you need to speak their language. It’s always important to use a clear vocabulary that allows you to convey your points effectively. Defining your target audience will also help you determine how questions must be formulated to ensure better communication. Some of the factors to consider include one’s age, education level, and familiarity with the topic. Be sure to conduct a separate study on your target respondents to discover what works and what doesn’t.
2. Do include screening questions when necessary.
Insert these questions at the beginning of your questionnaire. This is one way to filter respondents and determine whether their input will be valuable to your study. If you’re targeting students who are under a scholarship program, for example, you’ll start with a question that will influence the flow of your questionnaire. It doesn’t have to be too specific nor personal, as long as it provides enough information to profile respondents.
3. Do limit the length of your questions.
One of the things you want to avoid is a lengthy question. Long, complex questions may lead to a higher rate of dropouts after respondents grow tired of reading and answering your questionnaire. Rather than giving in to the temptation of asking every possible question in the book, learn to prioritize what you ask. You can also cut out unnecessary words that only make questions longer than they should be. But if you do think certain questions need to stay that way, it’s best to position them near the beginning where participants are most engaged.
4. Do proofread the questionnaire.
Always check your work for any mistakes that could be lurking around the corner. Even the smallest errors in grammar and punctuation could affect the general meaning of a question or how it is interpreted. Keep in mind that it’s not always possible for respondents to seek your assistance for any of the items that need to be clarified. If there are questions that sound too complicated for the average person to understand, consider revising the statement to make better sense.
5. Do run a pilot test.
Testing the questionnaire before it hits the field is always a good idea. This will spare you the frustration of getting off-target responses from a poorly constructed material. For the test run, make sure to gather a small sample of people from your target audience to answer the questionnaire. This will also reveal any questions that are deemed confusing or ambiguous to respondents. Any comments or observations should also be recorded to help improve and finalize the questionnaire before its distribution.
1. Don’t force an answer.
Some people won’t feel comfortable about answering questions that may be too sensitive to their liking. Inappropriate or problematic questions can also evoke unwanted emotions that could get you in trouble. Thus, you can’t force a respondent to answer specific questions if they can’t or refuse to do so. This will only make them want to opt out of the questionnaire before they even finish, or provide insincere responses to the most crucial questions.
2. Don’t use too many acronyms and technical terms.
The terms that you think are common knowledge may be foreign to some readers. The language used to formulate your questions will likely affect the way they are construed, so you need to think twice about speaking in fuzzy words to seem professional. This is why it’s a good idea to stick with a familiar language to maintain clarity. As for cases where acronyms and jargon are deemed necessary, be sure to provide a brief description or an example for readers to understand the question within its context.
3. Don’t include double-barreled questions.
These are questions that ask for a single answer for two different questions. Double-barreled questions often lead to inaccurate results, as respondents may find it difficult to relate two issues together, especially when a person has opposing views for each. It’s even more confusing when both ideas in the item have conflicting interpretations. Not only can this impact the data drawn from respondents, but this may also limit your analysis of the results.
4. Don’t make leading questions.
As mentioned a dozen times before, word choice is everything. How words and phrases are used is critical in expressing the meaning and intent of each question. It can potentially lead people to one side of the argument over the other. Mistakes like these are often unintentional, so make sure your research questionnaires are checked and approved prior to distribution.
5. Don’t provide too many options.
If you do want to keep the questionnaire short and specific, remember to limit your list of options to a maximum of five to six (but an average of three would do). Providing enough options for people to choose from will help increase your accuracy rate and guarantee viable conclusions. Otherwise, respondents will feel pressured to settle with an answer even when they don’t agree with it.
No matter how much time and effort you exert to put together a questionnaire, it’s bound to have its flaws — but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Creating the perfect research questionnaire is a tough job that requires constant practice and improvements to hone. You don’t have to be a professional to master the art and craft of questionnaire design, but knowing the right strategies is sure to make the experience all the more rewarding.