Questionnaire – Definition & Step-by-Step Guide

21.09.22 Collecting data Time to read: 5min

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A questionnaire is a critical methodology in data collection, extensively used in various research fields to gather information. It involves a structured set of questions designed to elicit specific responses from respondents, providing valuable insights into diverse topics. As an efficient and flexible tool, questionnaires enable researchers to understand patterns, behaviors, and underpinning factors in a more systematic and standardized manner.

Questionnaire – In a Nutshell

  • It is a popular method of research.
  • Questionnaires can be open-ended or closed-ended.
  • They can be used for small or extensive research projects.

Definition: Questionnaire

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.

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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.

Questionnaire methods

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

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.


What is your religion?

  • Christian
  • Hindu
  • Islam
  • Judaic
  • Buddhist


How many years have you worked here?

  • 10 or longer
  • 7-10
  • 5-7
  • 2-5
  • 2 or less


Do you consider yourself an introvert?

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

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

Open-ended questions

These let respondents give their responses in their own words.

Examples of open-ended questions

  1. What is your biggest motivation?
  2. Do you believe in life outside earth?

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

Questionnaire: Question-wording

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.

Balanced framing

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.


Some experts say that a lean diet is not necessary for active individuals.

  • Do you agree or disagree that a lean diet is essential for a healthy lifestyle?


Do you agree or disagree that traffic offenders should pay a fine and go to jail?

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Questionnaire: Question order

You can ask questions randomly or order them by complexity.

Logical flow

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.


Environmental groups are putting pressure on the government to enact laws to protect the environment. In a survey, the order of questions can affect the outlook of the public on the government:

  1. Do you know any laws protecting the environment?
  2. Do you think the government is doing enough to protect the environment?
  3. Do you think the government is fulfilling its duties?


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?

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Do you like the snow?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Indifferent

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.