Survey questionnaires are typically used for feedback research to determine the
current status or situation or to estimate the distribution of
characteristics in a population. Writing a survey questionnaire is one of the
most critical stages in the survey development process. Much of survey
questionnaire construction is common sense, but there are intricacies with
which survey authors should be familiar. It is common sense to require that the
concepts be clearly defined and questions unambiguously phrased; otherwise, the
resulting data are apt to be seriously misleading. To overcome this problem,
eSurveysPro offers a range of sample survey questionnaires, questions and
responses to help you in constructing your survey questionnaires.
Here are some ground rules to keep in mind before writing the first word:
- Each question should relate directly to your survey questionnaire objectives.
- Every respondent should be able to answer every question (unless instructed
- Each question should be phrased so that all respondents interpret it the same
- Each question should provide answers to what you need to know, not what would
be nice to know.
The following are the four main parts of a survey questionnaire. Though each of
these parts is different from each other, it is important to understand that
all of them are necessary for drafting a good survey questionnaire.
Four main parts of a survey questionnaire
Invitation involves identifying how you are going to invite your respondents to
answer the survey questionnaire. Several ways that are commonly used are
emails, website links, or online advertising. By identifying at least one
tangible or intangible benefit to respondents for answering the survey
questionnaire will help you compose an invitation that encourages respondents
to click through. A tangible benefit could be in the form of money or a gift;
whereas an intangible benefit is a chance to voice opinions or contribute to
research they view as valuable. There are five main parts of an invitation:
- Why the respondents have been selected to respond
- How long will the survey questionnaire take
- What benefit will they get for responding
- How their responses will be used / confidentiality
The beginning of your survey questionnaire should include an introduction that
is enticing and clearly states the purpose of your research. Because web survey
questionnaires are self-selecting (i.e., you have no control over who chooses
to participate), it is important that your introduction grabs the attention of
potential respondents and encourages their participation. It is easy for online
survey questionnaire participants to abandon the process, so you must
communicate up-front why they should help you with your questions. Failure to
do so will decrease the number of participants. The introduction should also
include any instructions about completing the survey questionnaire, and an
estimate of how much time it will take.
Based on your feedback objective you have to decide what types of questions will
give you the information you need. eSurveysPro helps you develop your survey
questionnaires quickly -- and lets you save specialized questions to assure
consistency from survey to survey. The different types of questions provided by
eSurveysPro are as follows:
|Select only one
||Single select questions with responses shown vertically, horizontally, in
columns, or in a pull-down menu.
|Select all that apply
||Multiple select questions where users may select several different responses to
a specific question.
|Free form text
||Limited: 1 to 250 characters long. Unlimited: respondents may enter as much
text as they want.
||Requires respondents to enter a numeric value within a range you specify.
||Requires respondents to enter a date in a format you specify, and within a
range you specify.
||Group of questions that have the same response options or scales. They can be
either single select or multiple select.
||A group of questions with related responses. Response types can be specified as
text, numeric or date values. You can specify "sum to" values for numeric data
||Place in order of importance items from a defined list. You can specify the
number of rank options.
eSurveysPro allows you to set data validation parameters for many question types
unlike most of the other online survey questionnaire applications. For
instance, you can specify a range for numeric answers, or date format for date
answers. Additionally, you can mark certain questions as "Response Required,"
which will enable you to have complete responses and reduce the number of
incomplete survey questionnaires.
Our next Best Practice Article will discuss each of these question types in
detail, including what results you can expect from each of them.
You can include text, instructions, or additional information at the end of your
survey questionnaire. Many surveyors find that the "Closing Text" option under
Survey Details gives them an easy way to thank their respondents for their time
Five steps in writing a survey questionnaire
First: Determine the objective As discussed in last month's Best
Practices Article "How to create an Effective Survey Plan," a clear,
quantitative feedback objective helps you define the scope of your survey
questionnaire and measure its success following completion.
Second: Decide the attributes to measure As with determining the
objective, choose which attributes to measure based on your objectives, and
with the data evaluation you plan to do. Several attributes you may choose to
- Behaviors and practices
- Perceptions of knowledge, skills or behavior
- Goals, intentions, aspirations
Of course, it's possible you might measure more than one, but the questions will
be clearly different based on the information you are trying to gather.
Third: Identify the audience As discussed in last month's best practices,
identifying which audience you intend to survey will affect the scope of your
research. It will also affect how you compose your questionnaire. To ensure
that it is appropriate for your audience, "field test" your survey
questionnaire with people similar to your respondents before administering the
final version. You can further ensure that you measure the right audience by
starting the survey questionnaire with appropriate qualifying questions that
filter out respondents who aren't a part of your target audience.
Fourth: Choose measurement scales Use scales that provide the information
needed and are appropriate for respondents. Some choices are:
- Fixed Response (Quantitative)
- Multiple Choice
- Rating scale/Continuum (such as Likert-type scale)
- Rank ordering
(Each of these question types will be explained in detail in the next Best
Fixed response questions are quick to answer and eSurveysPro graphs them
automatically, which facilitates analyzing the results.
Occasionally, however, fixed response questions may draw misleading conclusions
because the respondent cannot qualify responses, e.g. "Yes, but." or "It
depends" where only Yes/No are given as options.
- Narrative Response (Qualitative)
Narrative responses allow respondents greater freedom of expression. There is
no bias due to limited response ranges and the respondents can qualify their
answers. On the other hand, these responses are time consuming to code and the
researcher may misinterpret (and therefore misclassify) a response.
Fifth: Check reliability Reliability is a measure of how consistent the
results of using a survey questionnaire will be. By consistent we mean that
respondents understand the true meaning of the question as it is stated.
Reliability is often first determined using a "pilot test" with the proposed
survey questionnaire and might also be repeated with the final version.
An example of a reliability measure is test and then retest the survey, which
allows you to determine the repeatability of the instrument. After testing /
retesting, republish your eSurveysPro survey questionnaire, selecting "No,
remove any responses that have been collected" to eliminate responses collected
from your test audience.
Checking for errors
Sometimes survey questionnaires fail to achieve their objectives due to presence
of errors. Random error is the most common cause for diminished survey
questionnaire reliability, and occurs when questions are poorly worded, or
presented leading to inaccurate or uninterpretable answers.
For example: A survey questionnaire of small business owners asked, "How has
business activity changed during the past year?" The response options were:
Increased a lot
Increased a little
A better way to word this would be:
During the past year, my company's sales revenue has
- Decreased significantly
We can see in the second example that the question is very specific. The
respondents are asked to evaluate their company's sales revenue rather than
rate business activity, which could refer to sales revenue, profit, number of
employees, etc. Secondly, the scale in the second question is evenly
distributed versus the first one, which is biased towards the positive end of
However, a great deal can usually be done to address random error issues. For
example, you can reduce "random" error by removing unusual or confusing
questions or by changing their arrangement.
Tips for writing an effective survey questionnaire
Here are the Top 12 points to keep in mind as you write your survey
- Be brief: You should focus on "need to know" questions and minimize "nice to
know" information. Brief questionnaires have higher response rates.
- Start with non-threatening questions: Make the first question relevant to the
title/purpose, and make it easy to answer. Avoid asking for identifying
information in the beginning of the survey questionnaire.
- Use plain language: Be direct and use simple language so that respondents can
answer quicker and more accurately.
- Include simple instructions: When necessary, include instructions about how to
complete each section and how to mark the answers to ensure that the survey
questionnaire is completed correctly.
- Make sure it looks professional: Always proofread your questionnaire and assure
that the survey design is appropriate to the topic. A professional survey
creates a favorable image in the mind of the respondents about you.
- Ask only one question at a time: Avoid "double-barreled" questions that confuse
the respondent. Consider the confusion created by these examples:
- Do you like cats and dogs?
- Do you like tennis or do you like golfing?
- Use open-ended questions only when the responses add value to the survey
- Provide space to tell more: At the end of the survey questionnaire, give
respondents an opportunity to comment about the survey or general topic using
an open-ended question.
- Put important questions first: Respondents may get fatigued or hurried by later
questions. Include questions about demographic information at the end so the
earlier parts of survey questionnaire focus on gathering data necessary to meet
your survey objectives.
- Avoid agreement bias: By framing both positive and negative questions, your
respondents will evaluate each question rather than uniformly agreeing or
disagreeing to all of the responses.
- Avoid the response option "other": Careless responders will overlook the option
they should have designated and conveniently mark the option "other."
- Keep your survey questionnaire short: Limit the number of questions based on
your target audience. For example you can ask more questions to customers as
compared to web-site visitors.
By evaluating how important each question is to gathering the information you
need, and by carefully wording the response options, you will collect
information which will yield more satisfactory and meaningful results.