A researcher’s ability to design an appropriate measurement scale does not by itself provide guarantee that relevant data will automatically collected. Therefore, understanding what involves in building a questionnaire becomes utmost important for a researcher and manager.
Most problems in the field of marketing research are complex in the nature and require primary data collection. In such cases, a questionnaire becomes a potent tool for collecting primary data.
A questionnaire is characterized by two main objectives. First, it must convert the information required by managers in a format of questions. Second, the questions asked must be created in a format in which respondent will understand it and be willing to answer them.
Incomplete interviews seldom provide any useful insights and therefore the researcher must strive for reducing respondent disengagement as much as possible. A well-designed questionnaire would generally overcome the problem of disengagement.
Some of the best practices for questionnaire designing are as follows:
1. Selection of interview method:
The type of interviewing method (personal/telephone/online) plays an important role in questionnaire design. For example, in personal interview situations, respondents are able to see the questionnaire and interact in person with the interviewer. This provides an opportunity to ask varied questions involving complexities because instant feedback mechanism is available. Due to the personal interaction, it is also possible sometimes to ask lengthy questions. In telephone interviews, because the respondent cannot see the questionnaire it is quite hard to ask complex and lengthy questions. Therefore, the questions should be short and to the point involving little complexity. In online surveys, respondent tries to tackle each question on his or her own and hence it is recommended that the questions be kept simple.
2. Determination of question composition:
Once the information is specified in the researchable format and the interview method is decided, the next stage for the researchers will be to determine what kind of question are they going to ask to the respondents.
There are two major types of question structures:
- Open-ended questions (also called unstructured questions), and
- Close-ended questions (also called structured questions)
Closed-ended questions should be preferred for surveys, because they help in achieving higher response rates. Responses to closed-ended questions can also be easily analysed statistically. On the other hand, Open-ended questions are typically used in exploratory studies where the topic of research is fairly new or unknown. In other regular studies, close-ended questions should be minimised given the inconvenience of analysing text responses.
3. Determination of individual question content:
Each individual question is unique from its content perspective and therefore must be treated with caution in the development process. Using components such as words, order, tenses and so on, each question attempts to fulfill the overarching research objectives. One of the most important components of any question is words. Researchers have to be very clear in the choice of words which can easily be understood in the correct manner by respondents. If the researchers and respondents do not assign the same meaning to the used words, the response will be biased.
There are several other considerations before researcher decides the final question. Once the question is developed researchers need to ask ‘Is this question necessary?’ ‘Does it fulfill the part of the research objective as desired?’ Sometimes it is possible that a single question might not suffice a phenomenon to be studied and may require more than one question. For example, instead of asking from a retailer about his monthly sales (which he would be reluctant to answer), a researcher is better off asking following 2 questions:
- What is the average daily sale of your store?
- What is the most selling price range?
4. Developing question order, form and layout:
The question order, format and layout can have a significant impact on respondent engagement. Questionnaire with unclear order, format and layout generally get very low response rate and in turn become costly exercise.
The questionnaire can be divided in three main parts generally:
- Forward and opening questions;
- Generic information questions; and
- Specific information questions.
Forward and opening questions are highly important in gaining respondents’ trust and making them feel comfortable with the study. It also improves the response rate among the respondent if they find it worthwhile and interesting. Questions pertaining to opinion can give a good start to most questionnaires as everyone likes to give some opinion about issues at hand. At times, when it is necessary to qualify a respondent (i.e. determine if they are part of the defined target population), opening questions can act as qualification questions, like for example, for a study which require only respondents of age group of 30 & above, an opening question about age can be a qualifying question.
Generic information questions are divided into two main areas: classification information questions and identification information questions. Most socioeconomic and demographic questions (age, gender, income group, family size and so on) provide classification information. On the other hand, respondent name, address, and other contact information provide identification information. It is advisable to collect classification information before identification information as most respondents do not like their personal information collected by researchers and this process may alienate the respondent from the interview.
Specific information questions are questions directly associated with the research objectives. They mostly involve various scales and are complex in nature. This type of questions should be asked later in the questionnaire after the rapport has been established between the researcher and the respondent.
5. Pilot testing the questionnaire
It is advised that a questionnaire should not be used in the field survey without being adequately pilot tested. A pilot test provides testing of all aspects of a questionnaire including, content, wording, order, form and layout. The sample respondents selected for the pilot test must be similar to those who will be included in the actual survey in terms of their background characteristics, familiarity with the topic and attitudes and behaviors of interest.
Most researchers recommend a pilot test sample between 10 and 20 respondents. If the study is very large involving multiple stages, a larger pilot test sample may be required.