A questionnaire can be an important business tool, whether it’s to collect essential information from new applicants, or just to build up a database of market research information.
However, it’s easy to overlook even the most basic aspects of laying out your questions and answers effectively – so here are some top tips for questionnaire design to help dodge those pitfalls.
A little planning goes a long way, as you may have been told before.
In the case of questionnaire design, that means deciding what information you want to find out, and working out the most direct questions that will get you the answers you need.
Different types of question can be appropriate for different topics – you might want to stick to yes/no answers, or numerical scales (e.g. expressing satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5).
Sometimes it’s better to be more open in the answers you accept – and if you ask a totally open-ended question, make sure you give your respondents a space to write their own answer, even if you’ve listed the most likely responses.
Make your questionnaire easy to read, with sans serif fonts (or at least a clearly legible typeface), borders and dividing lines where appropriate, and plenty of white space – around both the questions and the answers.
If you’re providing tick-boxes and text areas, make them big enough for even fairly large, rounded handwriting; if you’re providing individual boxes for each letter in a response, make sure there are plenty of boxes, particularly in place names.
Make it clear which questions are part of the same section, and whether any can be skipped, and decide whether you need ‘N/A’ and ‘Don’t Know’ options, or spaces for your respondent to make additional notes.
Coding is part of questionnaire analysis, but it’s worth thinking about during the design process.
It involves giving each possible response a number – so ‘yes’ might be numbered 1, ‘no’ numbered 2, ‘n/a’ numbered 3 and so on.
You should avoid using zero for anything – instead save it as the default option for if an answer has been left blank.
When you analyse the questionnaire responses, coding is a way to turn verbal answers into numbers that can be compared more easily, and it’s a process that deserves a closer look if you’re particularly interested in it.
Don’t Offer a Middle Ground
A final tip on those numerical scales mentioned above – you usually don’t want to use a scale that offers an easy middle ground.
Questionnaire respondents naturally shy away from the strongest opinions in such scales, and if you offer a scale of 1 to 5, you’re likely to get a lot of people ticking the ‘3’ box.
Plenty of questionnaire designers use a 7-point scale, as it helps to offer more variation of middling options, allowing people to express an opinion without going to the extreme ends of the scale.
However, some people still don’t like that a 7-point scale has a single middle option; if you’re concerned by this, consider an even-numbered 4-point or 6-point scale to force a non-central response.