Questionnaire Design “It is not every question that deserves an answer.”



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Questionnaire Design

“It is not every question that deserves an answer.”

  • Publius Syrus (Roman, 1st century B.C.)

Ask a Sensitive Question, Get a Sensitive Answer

  • Survey researchers believe that the responses that people give are valid.
  • Care must be taken with sensitive questions.
  • Researchers must take care in asking relevant questions in ways that produce the most truthful results.

Basic Considerations in Questionnaire Design

  • Questionnaire design is one of the most critical stages in the survey research process.
    • A questionnaire (survey) is only as good as the questions it asks — ask a bad question, get bad results.
    • The questions must meet the basic criteria of relevance and accuracy.

What Should Be Asked?

  • Questionnaire Relevancy
    • All information collected should address a research question that helps the decision maker in solving a current marketing problem.
  • Questionnaire Accuracy
    • The information is valid; it faithfully represents reality.
      • Questionnaires should use simple, understandable, unbiased, unambiguous, & nonirritating words.
      • Questionnaire design should facilitate recall & motivate respondents to cooperate.
      • Proper question wording & sequencing to avoid confusion & biased answers.

Major Decisions in Questionnaire Design

  • What should be asked?
  • How should each question be phrased?
  • In what sequence should the questions be arranged?
  • What questionnaire layout will best serve the research objectives?
  • How should the questionnaire be pretested? Does the questionnaire need to be revised?

Phrasing Questions

  • Open-ended questions
  • Fixed-alternative questions
    • Aka closed or closed-ended questions

Open-Ended Response Questions

    • Pose some problem & ask respondents to answer in their own words.
    • Advantages:
      • Particularly beneficial in exploratory research, especially when the range of responses is not known.
      • Identify which words & phrases people spontaneously give.
      • Valuable at the beginning of an interview.
    • Disadvantages:
      • High cost of administering open-ended response questions.
      • The possibility that interviewer bias will influence the answer.
      • Bias introduced by articulate individuals’ longer answers.

Example of Open-Ended Response Question

Fixed-alternative Questions

    • Questions in which respondents are given specific, limited-alternative responses & asked to choose the one closest to their own viewpoint.
    • Advantages:
      • Require less interviewer skill
      • Take less time to answer
      • Are easier for the respondent to answer
      • Provides comparability of answers
    • Disadvantages:
      • Researcher may be unaware of all potential responses
      • Tendency of respondents to choose more prestigious or socially acceptable alternative

Example of a Fixed-Alternative Question

Types of Fixed-Alternative Questions

  • Simple-dichotomy (dichotomous) Question
    • Requires the respondent to choose one of two alternatives (e.g., yes or no).
    • Example:
      • Did you make any calls with your home (landline) phone during the 7 days?
      • _____ Yes _____ No
  • Determinant-Choice (multiple-choice) Question
    • Requires the respondent to choose one response from among multiple alternatives (e.g., A, B, or C).
    • Example:

Types of Fixed-Alternative Questions (con’t.)

  • Frequency-determination Question
    • Asks for an answer about general frequency of occurrence (e.g., often, occasionally, or never).
  • Checklist Question
    • Allows the respondent to provide multiple answers to a single question by checking off items.
  • Scale
    • Likert, Semantic Differential, Stapel, etc.

Phrasing Questions for Self-Administered, Telephone, & Personal Interview Surveys

  • Influences on Question Phrasing
    • Means of data collection — telephone interview, personal interview, self-administered questionnaire — will influence question format & question phrasing.
      • Questions for mail, Internet, & telephone surveys must be less complex than those used in personal interviews.
      • Questionnaires for telephone & personal interviews should be written in a conversational style.

Best Question Formats Vary by the Interview Medium

Guidelines For Avoiding Mistakes

  • Simpler is better
  • Avoid leading & loaded questions
    • Leading question – directs respondents to an answer you want them to give
    • Loaded question – suggests a socially desirable answer or is emotionally charged.

Guidelines For Avoiding Mistakes (con’t.)

  • “Avoid” ambiguity: Be as specific as possible
    • Probably /Definitely; Sometimes/Always, etc.
  • Avoid double-barreled items
    • Double-barreled question – may induce bias because it covers two or more issues at once.
    • Do you think the President is responsible for the federal government shut-down and the currently rising gasoline prices? Yes No
  • Avoid making assumptions
    • Given Macy’s skill-level at gift wrapping, …….
  • All-inclusive response alternatives
  • Avoid taxing respondent’s memory

Avoid Common Wording Mistakes in Questionnaire Design

Order Bias

  • Question Sequence
    • Order bias
      • Bias caused by the influence of earlier questions in a questionnaire or by an answer’s position in a set of answers.
    • Funnel technique
      • Asking general questions before specific questions in order to obtain unbiased responses.
  • Randomized Presentations
    • Used in electronic questionnaires, but rarely used in printed questionnaires due to coding difficulties.
  • Randomized Response Techniques
    • Randomly assigning respondents to answer either the question of interest (embarrassing) or a mundane & unembarrassing question.

Survey Flow

  • Survey flow
    • The ordering of questions through a survey.
  • Breakoff
    • A respondent who stops answering questions before reaching the end of the survey.
  • Filter question
    • A question that screens out respondents who are not qualified to answer a second (or follow-up) question.
  • Branching
    • Directing respondents to alternative portions of the questionnaire based on their response to a filter question.

Survey Flow for Eurocar Tour de France Sponsorship

Telephone Questionnaire with Skip Questions

Survey Technology

  • Physical Features
    • Heat map question
      • A graphical question that tracks the parts of an image or advertisement that most capture a respondent’s attention.
    • Status Bar
      • A visual indicator that tells the respondent what portion of the survey he or she has completed.
  • Prompting
    • Informs the respondent that he or she has skipped an item or provided implausible information.
  • Piping Software
    • Allows question answers to be inserted into later questions.

Tracking Points of Interest Using a Heat Map

Illustration of Status Bar & Prompts

Pretesting & Revising Questionnaires

  • Pretesting Process
    • Seeks to determine whether respondents have any difficulty understanding the questionnaire
    • whether there are any ambiguous or biased questions.
  • Preliminary Tabulation
    • A tabulation of results of a pretest to help determine whether questionnaire will meet the objectives of the research.

I Give Up!

  • Large portion of respondents give up before finishing & abandon the survey (break-offs).
  • Guidelines
    • Visually appealing & easy to read
    • Fewer questions per page (no more than 20)
    • 4 pages maximum for consumers
    • 6 pages maximum for business leaders
    • Question order (funnel vs. reverse-funnel)
    • Sensitive questions & open-ended questions encourage break-offs &/or item non-response
    • Sophisticated samples increase response rate
    • Make information requests legitimate
    • Pretesting is important (pretest EVERYTHING)

Questionnaire Reproduction (if mail survey)

    • Professional appearance
    • Booklet format for long questionnaires
    • Place directions as close to questions as possible
    • Expect reproduction errors


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