Creating an Effective Questionnaire – Tips and Examples

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To create an effective questionnaire for primary market research you have to be very clear what exactly you want to find out. Market research can be done to find out different things about the market. For example:

  • Is there a market for the new product you are planning to launch?
  • What features can you add to an existing product to improve its marketability?
  • What do customers think about competitors’ products?
  • Which channels are best to reach prospective customers?

It is clear that the same survey questions will not help you find answers to these different broad questions. So consider the current business context and the broad question that needs to be answered in that context. Detailed survey questions will have to be designed to produce an answer to the broad question.

Actually, you might need to conduct a secondary research to get a clear perspective to frame the broad question to be answered by primary research. With that perspective you might come up with a hypothesis. For example, a secondary research exercise might point to changing media habits and you might want to test a hypothesis such as: “Using Instagram for promoting our product will reach more prospective customers.” Your questions (and the whole research exercise) will then be designed to collect data to test this hypothesis.

Starting with a hypothesis as above will make the primary market research exercise more meaningful. You can then check:

  • What data do we need to validate the hypothesis? The statistical techniques used to prove or disprove the hypothesis will point to the type of data to be collected.
  • What questions can this data generate?

Such a hypothesis can also help you narrow down the specific population you want to research. For example, when you are testing whether Instagram reaches more members of your audience, you will be forced to define that audience. And check whether it is really the right audience considering the business results you are seeking.

Selecting the right audience is critically important. For example, if the research is for finding out reactions to an existing product, your audience will consist of people who have used the product. Your first question will be a filtering question to check whether they have used it. If the answer is NO, the survey will not proceed with that respondent. On the other hand, if you are planning to introduce a new product, your focus will be to find an audience that is likely to be interested in that product. You might check such potential interest through a series of questions.

With these preliminary remarks, let us now proceed to the topic of questionnaire design.

The detailed questions in the research questionnaire will primarily be determined by the broad business question you are trying to answer, as discussed above. The presentation of the questions will be affected by other aspects of the research.

Consider the Method of Question Delivery

The specific method used to reach research respondents will affect the wording of the questionnaire. Research can be done using:

  • Face to face interviews: During a face to face interview, you can explain any question that is not clear. You can also check the body language and facial expressions of the respondent to validate the answer to some extent.
  • Telephone interviews: A telephone interview also allows explaining questions in more detail. However, it might not be as effective because you cannot check the body language to ensure that the respondent has understood it right.
  • Mailed questionnaire: Mailed questionnaires have to contain full explanations so that the respondents know exactly what is being asked. If different respondents understand the question differently, you are unlikely to get the information you are looking for.
  • Focus group discussions: Focus groups are best for open discussions, not for questions that need a Yes or No answer.

So decide how you are going to reach your audience, and phrase your questions considering that context.

Structure the Flow of Questions

Don’t present the question in a haphazard order. Instead, there should be:

  • Opening questions to put the respondent at ease. At this stage, don’t ask questions that are likely to cause discomfort to the respondent. For example, personal questions such as level of income are best left to the end. The opening questions might not provide meaningful information; they put the respondent at ease and ready to answer remaining questions.
  • Main questions should be presented in a psychological order, with each question leading to the next question, wherever possible. These are the questions that generate the information you are really seeking.
  • “Dummy” questions can be included where you want to hide the purpose of certain questions from the respondent. These are extra questions that do not provide any information you want but prevents the respondent from understanding the intent behind a certain question.
  • Closing questions typically include personal information. Some of these questions might cause discomfort to some respondents. Leaving  them to the end ensures that you can get the key answers before you come to these.

Format of Main Questions

Questions can be phrased in three broad formats:

  • Open ended: These allow the respondent to respond in his or her own way. For example, the question might be: What do you think about this product? It could bring up answers you might not have expected. Open ended questions are good where the question could elicit varied answers.
  • Close ended: These questions typically have YES or NO answers. Such questions are good to get specific information that you can later tabulate and classify to identify meaningful patterns.
  • Open response option: These are like dropdown lists with a number of ready answers for the respondent to choose from. These are great when you have a clear idea of possible  answers because it combines some features of the open and close ended questions. It allows the respondent some choice of answers while also facilitating later statistical analysis.

The format is important for two conflicting reasons:

  • Getting a true picture by allowing the respondent through open questions to provide information that is relevant to the  research and
  • Allowing subsequent tabulation, classification and analysis of the answers. This is easier with closed questions. Answers to open ended questions will need additional work before they can be analysed. They will need to be categorised in a way relevant to the research objective and then tabulated and classified.

Review each Question

Once you have completed the questionnaire, go through each question and check:

  • Does this question serve any purpose? The purpose could be generating information to meet the research objective, or to put the respondent at ease, or a dummy question described earlier or a personal question to profile the respondent.
  • Does this question serve the intended purpose? Will it provide needed information or put the respondent at ease or hide the purpose of certain questions, as applicable?
  • Will the respondent be able to answer it correctly? Or will it confuse the person or lead to inaccurate answers? For example, questions about events that happened long ago, or about things the respondent has no idea about, are unlikely to be answered correctly.
  • Will the phrasing of the question communicate the same thing to all respondents? If the question is phrased hurriedly or carelessly, it might communicate different things to different people, and elicit answers that are not comparable.
  • Does the question suggest a specific answer? If your goal is to get an unbiased answer, the question should not suggest any particular answer. For example, if you only ask the respondent: What makes you dislike this product? (probably a competitor’s product) it assumes that the respondent does not like it. If you want a true picture, you would phrase the question in a way that persons who like the product can give that answer.
  • Is the question too personal or embarrassing? Such questions might not be answered correctly, or at all. It could even lead to termination of the interview.

Questionnaire Presentation

A questionnaire with the following characteristics are more likely to be taken seriously, and answered accurately:

  • A neatly laid out document with plenty of white space, in addition to adequate space for answers.
  • Clearly and simply worded questions that leave no room for ambiguous interpretation.
  • Definitions and explanations of terms that might not be clear to everybody.
  • Additional instructions where needed to enable correct answering. These should appear close to the relevant question so that it is seen before an answer is given.

Test the Questionnaire

There are so many factors that could affect getting the right information you need. It is best to test the questionnaire on a small representative sample to check whether it generates the information needed by the research.This is likely to bring up problems you might not have observed. Only after any problems are rectified should you scale up the survey to a full sample of the audience.

Conclusion

Before you start framing market research questions take adequate time to get a clear idea of your business objective. The business objective will help you set the research objective i.e. the information you want to find out through the research. And the information you have to find out will determine the questions you have to ask.

Once the questions are listed, your next task is to work on phrasing presenting these in a way that makes it easy to get answers, and also increases the chances of getting correct answers. In this post we looked at the different things you can do to fine tune the questions. We concluded with a few resources for example questions.