A questionnaire is one of the most common data collection methods in research. It’s used in various research disciplines as a primary source alongside literature reviews and observation techniques.
A questionnaire is a research tool consisting of structured questions to collect specific information from respondents. For example, a car dealership can issue questionnaires to its clients to know their opinion on the quality of after-sale services.1
Questionnaires vs. surveys
Questionnaires are research methods of using questions to collect responses. A survey is the entire process of gathering, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from a research group.
The questions are an essential component of a survey, although when used alone doesn’t necessarily create a survey.2
Researchers can use self-administered or researcher-administered questionnaire methods.
These are standardized and administered in person, online, via mail, or pen-and-paper
|✔ Advantages||✘ Disadvantages|
|Cost-effectiveness||It is limited by literacy and verbal communication skills|
|Ease of administration to large groups||It may be prone to nonresponse bias where some people fail to complete or submit altogether|
|They are apt for sensitive cases||It relies on volunteer responders since impersonal questions often elicit limited responses|
|They can be adjusted for specific timeframes|
These are conducted in person, by phone, or via online platforms
|✔ Advantages||✘ Disadvantages|
|It helps to ensure the most representative sample||It can be expensive and time-intensive|
|It allows for the explanation of unclear questions and responses||It may be hard to analyze large amounts of qualitative data|
|It offers more answers as respondents may feel obligated to respond in personal interaction||It may be susceptible to undue influence by the researchers|
|It is prone to incorrect responses as respondents may have social desirability bias|
Questionnaire: Open-ended vs. closed-ended questions
Questionnaires can be open-ended or closed-ended.
Close-ended questions restrict respondents to a fixed set of responses for each question.
Examples of close-ended questions
Variables in close-ended questionnaires determine the type of statistical analysis to generate conclusive findings. These variables include:
- Nominal variables:
These are categories that can be ordered, such as religion or race.
- Ordinal variables:
Include ranges and other categories that can be ranked within an array.
- Likert-type questions:
They use an ordering scale with between 5 to 7 points.
Pros and cons of close-ended questions
|✔ Pros||✘ Cons|
|Simpler and quicker to answer||Lacks in-depth information|
|Higher response rate||It may lead to biased responses|
|Responses can be easily compared||Fails to consider opinions3|
These let respondents give their responses in their own words.
Pros and cons of open-ended questions
|✔ Pros||✘ Cons|
|Provides in-depth data||It can be time-consuming|
|Offers new insights||It may lead to the collection of unusable information|
|Allows for opinions and sentiments||Generally has a low response rate4|
Question-wording can affect the respondents’ responses to a set of questions.
Use clear language
Tailor your language or topic to suit the level of familiarity of the respondents.
Use simple language instead of complicated terms which may be difficult to understand.
A balanced question is one whose core gives the respondent all the plausible scenarios of a situation.
Positive frames are considered, for example: Should schools be less strict with bullies?
Negative frames are perceived to be less neutral. For example: Should schools be stricter with bullies?
Avoid leading questions
Leading questions nudge respondents to lean in a particular direction when responding to a set of questions. They do so by directly or indirectly supplying extra data.
Keep your questions focused
Do not use double-barreled questions.
Questionnaire: Question order
You can ask questions randomly or order them by complexity.
A questionnaire with a logical flow structures its questions from the simplest and most basic questions to complex or sensitive ones. The question order can influence the respondents by leading them in specific directions.
Randomization can solve the order effect. However, it may lead to more effort by the respondents as they have to transition from one mindset to another as questions don’t follow any logical sequence.
How to design a questionnaire step-by-step
The following represents the 4 steps that are used:
Step 1: Clarifying your goals
Highlight your goals and objectives to narrow down to the most essential variables. Highlight the specific problem in the topic you aim to study.
Step 2: Setting appropriate questions
Consider your respondents’ time and proficiency level to create relevant questions. For closed-ended questions, take into account all the possible responses.
Step 3: Determining the length and question order
The length and question order should match the responsiveness of the respondents. For instance, a group of respondents with no incentives will respond better to brief and clear questions.
Step 4: Pretesting your questionnaire
Use a small test group such as friends, colleagues, or family to gauge how well your questions are set. Did they find any questions confusing or ambiguous?6
Do you like the snow?
These allow the respondent to answer questions in their own phrases. They’re used to collect data such as opinions and attitudes.
Begin by identifying a specific research problem. Create short or detailed questions depending on how motivated the respondents are.
Questionnaires can be part of a survey. However, a survey involves data collection, analysis, and reporting findings.
1 Questionnaires. “The ultimate guide, advantages & examples.” QuestionPro. Accessed on September 07, 2022. https://www.questionpro.com/blog/what-is-a-questionnaire/.
2 SmartSurvey. “The Difference Between Survey and Questionnaire.” Accessed on September 07. 2022, https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/articles/survey-vs-questionnaire/.
3 Dawer, Nikhil. “Advantages & Disadvantages of Closed Ended Question.” Zonka. October 09, 2019. https://www.zonkafeedback.com/blog/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-closed-ended-questions.
4 Wolff, Rachel. “Advantages and Disadvantages of Open-Ended and Close-Ended Questions.” Monkey Learn. January 25, 2021. https://monkeylearn.com/blog/advantages-of-open-ended-questions.
5 Trochim, William M. K.. “Question Wording.” Conjointly. Accessed on September 07, 2022. https://conjointly.com/kb/survey-question-wording.
6 FAO. “Chapter 4: Questionnaire Design.” Accessed on September 07, 2022. https://www.fao.org/3/w3241e/w3241e05.htm.