Most questionnaires follow a similar format: They begin with an introduction describing what the study is for, followed by instructions for completing the questionnaire and, if necessary, returning it to the market researcher. The first few questions are usually basic, warm-up type of questions the respondent can readily answer, such as the respondent’s age, level of education, and residence. The warm-up questions are then followed by a logical progression of more detailed, in-depth questions that get to the heart of the question being researched. Lastly, the questionnaire wraps up with a statement that thanks the respondent for participating and explains when and how he or she will be paid for participating.
How the questions are worded is important. It’s natural for respondents to want to provide the “correct” answers to the person administering the survey. Therefore, it’s possible that people will try to tell you what you want to hear. Consequently, the survey questions must be written in an unbiased, neutral way. They shouldn’t lead a person to answer a question one way or another by the way it’s worded. The question, Don’t you agree that teachers should be paid more? is an example of a leading question.
The questions also need to be clear and unambiguous. Consider the following question: Which brand of toothpaste do you use?
The question sounds clear enough, but what if the respondent recently switched brands? What if he or she uses Crest at home, but while away from home or traveling, he or she uses something else? Rewording the question as follows so it’s more specific will help make the question clearer: Which brand of toothpaste have you used at home in the past six months? If you have used more than one brand, please list each of them (Quick MBA, n.d.).
Sensitive questions have to be asked carefully. For example, asking a respondent, “Do you consider yourself a light, moderate, or heavy drinker?” can be tricky. Few people want to admit to being heavy drinkers. You can soften the question by including a range of answers, as the following example shows:
How many alcoholic beverages do you consume in a week?
· 0–5 alcoholic beverages
· 5–10 alcoholic beverages
· 10–15 alcoholic beverages
Many people don’t like to answer questions about their income levels. Asking them to specify income ranges rather than divulge their actual incomes can help.
Other research question “don’ts” include using jargon and acronyms that could confuse people. “How often do you IM?” is an example. Also, don’t ask two questions in the same question, something researchers refer to as a double-barreled question. “Do you think parents should spend more time with their children and/or their teachers?” is an example of a double-barreled question.
Open-ended questions, or questions that ask respondents to elaborate, can be included. However, they are harder to tabulate than closed-ended questions, or questions that limit a respondent’s answers. Multiple-choice and yes-and-no questions are examples of closed-ended questions.
You have probably heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” If the questions are bad, the information gathered will be bad, too. One way to make sure you don’t end up with garbage is to test the questionnaire before sending it. Is there enough space for people to elaborate on open-ended questions? Is the font readable? To test the questionnaire, marketing research professionals first administer it face-to-face to respondents. This gives them the chance to ask the researcher about questions or instructions that are unclear or don’t make sense. The researcher then administers the questionnaire to a small subset of respondents in the actual way the survey is going to be disseminated, whether it’s delivered via phone, in person, by mail, or online.
Getting people to participate and complete questionnaires can be difficult. If the questionnaire is too long or hard to read, many people won’t complete it. So, eliminate questions that aren’t necessary. Including some sort of monetary incentive for completing the survey can increase the number of completed questionnaires.