Top tips for questionnaire design

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December 2017

By Principal Consultant, Klas Johansson, and Consultant, Jasper Odgers

As government increasingly focuses on outcomes measurement, customer-centred service delivery, stakeholder engagement and contestable markets, organisations are increasingly seeking feedback through questionnaires. These days, with the plethora of online platforms, it’s easy enough for anyone to knock up a questionnaire and put it in the field. But without getting the basics right, you won’t get reliable data you can use to demonstrate achievements and identify improvements.

Here are our top tips to set you up for success.

  1. Work out if a questionnaire is the right method: If you know what you need to measure and have specific questions about perceptions, knowledge, attitudes, or behaviour, a questionnaire is the way to go. If you don’t know much about the subject, you may be better off starting with semi-structured interviews.
  2. Think about use at the outset: You need to design questions that respondents understand and that produce unambiguous data for analysts. You also need to think about what you need to do based on the data. For example, if you’re looking at customer satisfaction, and find low or falling satisfaction rates, you’ll probably also want to know what the issues are, or improvements customers want to see.
  3. Keep it short: Think about how much time your target group has to complete your questionnaire. A long questionnaire for a group with limited time – or any group, really – may be the difference between a reasonable and poor response rate.
  4. Scale it right: There are many different options. If you’re using labelled points, you need to make sure your scale balances. And don’t forget to match your question stem with your response scale.
  5. Know the difference. You need to be able to discern between ignorance (respondent doesn’t know enough to provide an answer) and indifference (respondent doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other). When it comes to analysis, these are important differences because if ignorant responses are placed within the scale, it skews the results away from the extremes of the scale towards the middle. Without an opt-out category, respondents who don’t know enough about what’s being asked will often leave the question blank.
  6. Choose your words carefully: Don't ask double barrelled questions or questions with a double negative. Avoid acronyms and jargon, particularly when asking customers for feedback.

Want to learn more and put these principles into practice? Speak to us about our applied survey design workshops on 02 9373 9900.

Recently, we worked with the Australian Human Rights Commission to combine our extensive knowledge of survey design with their team members’ expertise in their sectors. We worked together to analyse their existing surveys, refining them to ensure meaningful data for use.