Market Research: How to write a questionnaire

Writing a questionnaire can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It really depends on the information you want to collect and the significance of the decision that it’s going to help you make. For example, if you are planning to open a new shop based on your research results, you should be as rigorous as possible in conducting your research.

Step 1: Your survey objectives

Once you have worked out what you want to achieve, you can start writing your questions. You need to be very clear about why you are conducting your survey and the information you need to gather. Your research objectives will shape the questions you ask, the way you word them and the order you ask them in. Keeping your objectives in mind think about how they impact the following points:

Questionnaire structure
Give some thought to the length of the questionnaire, the questions you will ask, how you will phrase them, the order you ask them in and the general layout of the questionnaire. Your questions should have a logical flow, with related questions grouped together.

Who’s answering the questions?
Your questionnaire must be relevant to the people you’re asking to complete it. Some areas to think about include age, cultural background, gender, education level and English proficiency.

If you don’t word your questions appropriately, you run the risk of getting misleading information or putting the respondent offside by wasting their time.

How will you group the respondents?
How do you segment your market? Ask questions which will allow you to group responses by your market segments. For example you might like to find out how many women aged 25-35 use your service compared to men of the same age.

This part of the survey is usually at the end. Information collected in this part of the survey could include: age, gender, education level, income, marital status, occupation and name. If you are surveying businesses, you could collect details of the size, location and age of the business and the types of products or services sold.

Step 2: Writing the content

Now that you've established what you want the questionnaire to achieve, how you will structure it and the types of questions you need to ask, it’s time to write your survey. Take your time and refine your questions to make sure you get it right. A few points to remember are:

Introduce the questionnaire
The introduction persuades the respondent to participate in the survey. It explains who is conducting the study, how the information will be used and guarantees the participant confidentiality. The introduction should make clear:

  • the purpose of the questionnaire
  • why it is important for you
  • why it could be useful for the respondent
  • how long it should take to complete
  • what will happen to the results
  • complete contact details
  • final date for a reply

Ask questions in a logical order

The questions should have a natural, logical flow. It’s a good idea to start with general questions and then ask more detailed, difficult ones as the questionnaire proceeds and the respondent becomes comfortable. Some general rules are:

  • go from general to particular
  • go from easy to difficult
  • go from factual to abstract
  • start with closed format questions
  • start with questions relevant to the main subject
  • do not start with demographic and personal questions

Aim for brevity
Keep the questionnaire as short as possible. If it is long and complicated your response rate will drop. Stick to the essential or very useful information and be prepared to discard questions which relate to secondary or unnecessary information. Also keep questions as short as possible so that they are easily understood.

Use simple language
Phrase your questions in simple language. Don’t use jargon or abbreviations which might be unknown to your target sample. Check grammar and spelling carefully.

Be precise
Be careful to avoid questions that may be ambiguous. It is important that all respondents get the same meaning from each question otherwise the results will be flawed.

Use the right type of questions
Put simply, different types of questions provide different types of answers so it’s important to use the right type of question, depending on what you are trying to find out.

There are advantages to every type of question. A major disadvantage of open ended questions is that they are difficult to analyse. If you have 500 people with a different response to a question how are you going to identify patterns in their answers?

When writing your questions think about how you will analyse the responses? Will you count them, enter them in a spreadsheet or use a statistical analysis program? The capabilities of the system you use to analyse your results will affect the complexity of the question that you ask.

Also remember to give respondents instructions about how you want them to answer. Can they select one response? Multiple responses? Do they have to rank their response?

The main types of questions are:

Open ended
eg: Do you have any suggestions about how we could improve our customer service? (indicate below)

_________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________

Closed
eg: Do you own a car? (select one response)

YES
NO

Multiple choice
eg: Which of these media do you get your news from?
(select more than one response)

Newspaper
Radio
TV
Internet

Scaled
eg: Using the scale below, how would you rank the following?

1 = excellent
2 = good
3 = satisfactory
4 = fair
5 = poor

Our prices
Our customer service
Our product range
Our location
The quality of our products

The quality of our products
eg: Please rank these buying motives in order of importance where 1 = most important and 6 = least important

Price
Service
Range
Location
Quality
Design

Step 3: Piloting the questionnaire

After you've written your survey get your friends and family to try it. Once you've made changes from their feedback you can then pre-test your questionnaire on a small sample of people who are characteristic of your target audience.

After you have tested the questionnaire you might need to rewrite or reorder some of the questions. Piloting your questionnaire is an essential step in the process so give yourself plenty of time to do it.