Sunday, 21 November 2010

What makes an effective Survey/ Questionnaire?

In order to design and implement an effective Survey or Questionnaire it is important to consider many influencing factors which could affect the responses that will be received. The questions have to be well balanced and not biased in any way that could influence the user into giving either inaccurate or unnecessary information which can waste time, for both the respondent and the conductor of the research.

- Questions need to be fair and unbiased. A lot of this can come from the phrasing used to write a question, for example; "What did you like about the last airline flight you took?" is a biased question because it forces to respondent to consider what they liked about the flight rather than if they actually liked the flight or not. The question is effectively "pushing" for a positive response. 

Rewriting the question so that it reads; "What, if anything, did you like or dislike about the last airline flight you took?" serves to change the respondents perspective so they don't feel like they are being put on the spot to find something positive, rather they are thinking about whether or not the experience was an enjoyable one and what in particular made it that way.

- Make sure that the questions you asked provide the exact information that the questionnaire/ survey is intended to find out. It is necessary to avoid the temptation to gather extra bits of information which are nice to know, but do not have anything to do with the initial objectives for which the questionnaire/ survey was created. A way to ensure this would be to conduct a test (pilot) for your questionnaire which will help you to understand the type of answers you can expect from the questions you chose to ask, and can help you to redesign the questions to try and achieve more thorough and relevant results from each respondent.

- "It has been estimated that as many as 50% of respondents who start a self-administered questionnaire will not complete it because they become irritated and annoyed at the way it is constructed. When writing a self-administered questionnaire, then, every care must be taken to ensure that it is easy to complete in that it almost answers itself" (Kaden, Bob. 2007).

With this is mind, we should be aware of a couple of techniques that can be used to increase the completion percentage of the questionnaire you have designed;

Keep the language used in questionnaires simple. Unnecessary and potentially confusing language such as technical terms, jargon and acronyms can only serve to confuse the average respondent, which is something that you should definitely look to avoid, because this can lead to misleading results if the respondent gets confused as to what they are being asked, or even abandonment of the questionnaire if they continue to be frustrated by their lack of understanding of what they are being asked. 

Keep the number of questions that you decide to ask quite low, as the more questions you decide to ask, the more likely it is that the user will become frustrated by the seemingly "never ending" number of questions being asked, which will lead to people failing to complete all of the questions, out of boredom and/ or lack of time.

It is also important that your questionnaire has a good flow between questions (question 1 relates to question 2 and so on...) and is set out in a way that is not cluttered and is easy to read.

- If your survey/ questionnaire is online based, it is also worth thinking about putting the most important questions (important in terms of what exactly it is that you need to find out, and what your objective for the survey is) first. This is due to the fact that it is very easy for a respondent to get bored mid-way through a questionnaire and click the close button on their browser, so putting the most important questions
 according to your objectives first, will ensure that you gain some results that you can use regardless of if a user quits half-way through the questions.

Following these basic rules of questionnaire writing are a good start, however, there are of course many more rules, tips and techniques that can be used to improve your questionnaire in terms of efficiency, response rate and the quality of the results that you are likely to receive. Hopefully we can touch upon a few more of these as this blog goes on over time.

References -

Frary, Robert B. (1996). Hints for designing effective questionnaires. Practical Assessmant, Research and Evaluation, 5(3). Retrieved November 21st, 2010 from

Hill, Nick. (2004). Tips for Developing an Effective Questionnaire. Retrieved November 21st, 2010 from

Kaden, Bob. (2007). Guidelines for Writing an Effective Questionnaire. Retrieved November 21st, 2010 from


  1. After reading your post there is an issue I would like to raise when looking at what makes an effective survey/questionnaire.

    The first point being that in your post you didn’t mention anything about how different types of survey may have to be written or conducted in certain ways for them to be effective. For example, an internet survey would have to be constructed completely differently to a face to face interview, if they are both the same survey some important information could be missed due to the face to face interview not being constructed or interviewed in as much depth as it should be. Therefore not being as effective as it could be.

    Other than this point though, I found your post very helpful when looking at how to make an effective survey/questionnaire.

  2. I agree with you in that different types of surveys and questionnaires will have to be set out in different ways. For example an experienced interviewer who was trained in the flow of questionnaires will have gone through the questions prior to the interview will be able to skip questions that are not relevant, and effectively "dumb-down" the questions accordingly to the understanding of the respondent. This means that the interviewer administered questionnaire could potentially be much more complex than a self administered alternative.

    I based my post mainly around a self administered, paper based questionnaire, but I feel many of the points can be applied to the other types of survey or questionnaire.

    Hope that helps clears things up.

  3. No that’s brilliant, thanks. I was just intrigued when reading through your first post that when talking about effectiveness it wasn’t mentioned that different types of surveys may need to be conducted/ constructed differently to be effective but you have now cleared that point up!

  4. Good work Adam I learnt a lot on how to make a survey/questionnaire effective. I feel after reading this blog, creating a questionnaire/survey will be easier.

  5. A good in-depth post. I Used to think to much about the construction and layout when making a survey, but the effectiveness is just as important. Also you mentioned the target audience for the survey must be considered when choosing how to word questions, this is very important.