Survey interview: Questionnaire Designing

30/01/2021 1 By indiafreenotes

The design of a questionnaire will depend on whether the researcher wishes to collect exploratory information (i.e. qualitative information for the purposes of better understanding or the generation of hypotheses on a subject) or quantitative information (to test specific hypotheses that have previously been generated).

Exploratory questionnaires: If the data to be collected is qualitative or is not to be statistically evaluated, it may be that no formal questionnaire is needed. For example, in interviewing the female head of the household to find out how decisions are made within the family when purchasing breakfast foodstuffs, a formal questionnaire may restrict the discussion and prevent a full exploration of the woman’s views and processes. Instead, one might prepare a brief guide, listing perhaps ten major open-ended questions, with appropriate probes/prompts listed under each.

Formal standardised questionnaires: If the researcher is looking to test and quantify hypotheses and the data is to be analysed statistically, a formal standardised questionnaire is designed. Such questionnaires are generally characterised by:

  • Prescribed wording and order of questions, to ensure that each respondent receives the same stimuli
  • Prescribed definitions or explanations for each question, to ensure interviewers handle questions consistently and can answer respondents’ requests for clarification if they occur
  • Prescribed response format, to enable rapid completion of the questionnaire during the interviewing process.

Given the same task and the same hypotheses, six different people will probably come up with six different questionnaires that differ widely in their choice of questions, line of questioning, use of open-ended questions and length. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to design a questionnaire, but there are a number of points that can be borne in mind:

  1. A well-designed questionnaire should meet the research objectives. This may seem obvious, but many research surveys omit important aspects due to inadequate preparatory work, and do not adequately probe particular issues due to poor understanding. To a certain degree some of this is inevitable. Every survey is bound to leave some questions unanswered and provide a need for further research but the objective of good questionnaire design is to ‘minimise’ these problems.
  2. It should obtain the most complete and accurate information possible. The questionnaire designer needs to ensure that respondents fully understand the questions and are not likely to refuse to answer, lie to the interviewer or try to conceal their attitudes. A good questionnaire is organised and worded to encourage respondents to provide accurate, unbiased and complete information.
  3. A well-designed questionnaire should make it easy for respondents to give the necessary information and for the interviewer to record the answer, and it should be arranged so that sound analysis and interpretation are possible.
  4. It would keep the interview brief and to the point and be so arranged that the respondent(s) remain interested throughout the interview.

Preliminary decisions in questionnaire design

There are nine steps involved in the development of a questionnaire:

  1. Decide the information required.
  2. Define the target respondents.
  3. Choose the method(s) of reaching your target respondents.
  4. Decide on question content.
  5. Develop the question wording.
  6. Put questions into a meaningful order and format.
  7. Check the length of the questionnaire.
  8. Pre-test the questionnaire.
  9. Develop the final survey form.

Deciding on the information required

It should be noted that one does not start by writing questions. The first step is to decide ‘what are the things one needs to know from the respondent in order to meet the survey’s objectives?’ These, as has been indicated in the opening chapter of this textbook, should appear in the research brief and the research proposal.

One may already have an idea about the kind of information to be collected, but additional help can be obtained from secondary data, previous rapid rural appraisals and exploratory research. In respect of secondary data, the researcher should be aware of what work has been done on the same or similar problems in the past, what factors have not yet been examined, and how the present survey questionnaire can build on what has already been discovered. Further, a small number of preliminary informal interviews with target respondents will give a glimpse of reality that may help clarify ideas about what information is required.

Define the target respondents

At the outset, the researcher must define the population about which he/she wishes to generalise from the sample data to be collected. For example, in marketing research, researchers often have to decide whether they should cover only existing users of the generic product type or whether to also include non-users. Secondly, researchers have to draw up a sampling frame. Thirdly, in designing the questionnaire we must take into account factors such as the age, education, etc. of the target respondents.

Choose the methods of reaching target respondents

It may seem strange to be suggesting that the method of reaching the intended respondents should constitute part of the questionnaire design process. However, a moment’s reflection is sufficient to conclude that the method of contact will influence not only the questions the researcher is able to ask but the phrasing of those questions. The main methods available in survey research are:

  • Personal interviews
  • Group or focus interviews
  • Mailed questionnaires
  • Telephone interviews.

Within this region the first two mentioned are used much more extensively than the second pair. However, each has its advantages and disadvantages. A general rule is that the more sensitive or personal the information, the more personal the form of data collection should be.

Decide on question content

Researchers must always be prepared to ask, “Is this question really needed?” The temptation to include questions without critically evaluating their contribution towards the achievement of the research objectives, as they are specified in the research proposal, is surprisingly strong. No question should be included unless the data it gives rise to is directly of use in testing one or more of the hypotheses established during the research design.

There are only two occasions when seemingly “redundant” questions might be included:

  • Opening questions that are easy to answer and which are not perceived as being “threatening”, and/or are perceived as being interesting, can greatly assist in gaining the respondent’s involvement in the survey and help to establish a rapport.

This, however, should not be an approach that should be overly used. It is almost always the case that questions which are of use in testing hypotheses can also serve the same functions.

  • “Dummy” questions can disguise the purpose of the survey and/or the sponsorship of a study. For example, if a manufacturer wanted to find out whether its distributors were giving the consumers or end-users of its products a reasonable level of service, the researcher would want to disguise the fact that the distributors’ service level was being investigated. If he/she did not, then rumours would abound that there was something wrong with the distributor.

Develop the question wording

Survey questions can be classified into three forms, i.e. closed, open-ended and open response-option questions. So far only the first of these, i.e. closed questions has been discussed. This type of questioning has a number of important advantages;

  • It provides the respondent with an easy method of indicating his answer – he does not have to think about how to articulate his answer.
  • It ‘prompts’ the respondent so that the respondent has to rely less on memory in answering a question.
  • Responses can be easily classified, making analysis very straightforward.
  • It permits the respondent to specify the answer categories most suitable for their purposes.

Putting questions into a meaningful order and format

Opening questions: Opening questions should be easy to answer and not in any way threatening to THE respondents. The first question is crucial because it is the respondent’s first exposure to the interview and sets the tone for the nature of the task to be performed. If they find the first question difficult to understand, or beyond their knowledge and experience, or embarrassing in some way, they are likely to break off immediately. If, on the other hand, they find the opening question easy and pleasant to answer, they are encouraged to continue.

Question flow: Questions should flow in some kind of psychological order, so that one leads easily and naturally to the next. Questions on one subject, or one particular aspect of a subject, should be grouped together. Respondents may feel it disconcerting to keep shifting from one topic to another, or to be asked to return to some subject they thought they gave their opinions about earlier.

Question variety:. Respondents become bored quickly and restless when asked similar questions for half an hour or so. It usually improves response, therefore, to vary the respondent’s task from time to time. An open-ended question here and there (even if it is not analysed) may provide much-needed relief from a long series of questions in which respondents have been forced to limit their replies to pre-coded categories. Questions involving showing cards/pictures to respondents can help vary the pace and increase interest.

Closing questions

It is natural for a respondent to become increasingly indifferent to the questionnaire as it nears the end. Because of impatience or fatigue, he may give careless answers to the later questions. Those questions, therefore, that are of special importance should, if possible, be included in the earlier part of the questionnaire. Potentially sensitive questions should be left to the end, to avoid respondents cutting off the interview before important information is collected.

In developing the questionnaire the researcher should pay particular attention to the presentation and layout of the interview form itself. The interviewer’s task needs to be made as straight-forward as possible.

  • Questions should be clearly worded and response options clearly identified.
  • Prescribed definitions and explanations should be provided. This ensures that the questions are handled consistently by all interviewers and that during the interview process the interviewer can answer/clarify respondents’ queries.

Ample writing space should be allowed to record open-ended answers, and to cater for differences in handwriting between interviewers.

Physical appearance of the questionnaire

The physical appearance of a questionnaire can have a significant effect upon both the quantity and quality of marketing data obtained. The quantity of data is a function of the response rate. Ill-designed questionnaires can give an impression of complexity, medium and too big a time commitment. Data quality can also be affected by the physical appearance of the questionnaire with unnecessarily confusing layouts making it more difficult for interviewers, or respondents in the case of self-completion questionnaires, to complete this task accurately. Attention to just a few basic details can have a disproportionately advantageous impact on the data obtained through a questionnaire.