Tool 6: Putting together a Questionnaire

Once you have identified the people you need to engage with, you can start thinking about what questions to ask. There are a few key points:

 There are two types of questions that can be asked open questions and closed questions.

Clarity

Questions must be clear, succinct, and unambiguous. The goal is to eliminate the chance that the question will mean different things to different people. It is best to phrase your questions empirically if possible and to avoid the use of necessary adjectives. For example, if asking a question about frequency, rather than supplying choices that are open to interpretation such as:

It is better to quantify the choices, such as:

Leading Questions

A leading question is one that forces or implies a certain answer. It is easy to make this mistake in formulating the question as well as the choice of answers. A closed format question must supply answers that not only cover the whole range of possible responses, but that are also equally distributed throughout the range. All answers should be equally likely. 

Phrasing

Most adjectives, verbs, and nouns in English have either a positive or negative connotation. Two words may have equivalent meaning, yet one may be a compliment and the other an insult - for example "child-like" and "childish", which have virtually identical meaning. Child-like is an affectionate term that can be applied to both men and women, and young and old, yet no one wishes to be thought of as childish.  

Embarrassing Questions

Embarrassing questions dealing with personal or private matters should be avoided - unless it is about the topic of the consultation; in that case you have to emphasise the anonymity of the data. Your data is only as good as the trust and care that your respondents give you. If you make them feel uncomfortable, you will lose their trust.

Prestige Bias

Prestige bias is the tendency for respondents to answer in a way that make them feel better. People may not lie directly, but may try to put a better light on themselves.

Questionnaire length

There is no consensus on how many questions should be asked but an overly long questionnaire will lose the respondents attention and may result in a lower response rate. If your survey is over a few pages, try to remove questions. For each question ask, "How am I going to use this information?" If the information will be used in a decision-making process, then keep the question... it's important. If not, remove it. 

Things to think about

A national database of questions can be found in the: Survey Question Bank

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