Basics of Developing Questionnaires

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    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    Adapted from the Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development.

    Whether developing questions for questionnaires or interviews or focus groups, there are certain guidelines that help to ensure that respondents provide information that is useful and can later be analyzed.

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    Types of Information Collected by Questions

    Questions are geared to find out what people know, did, feel, and think.
    1. To find out what information they know, ask them to describe something, e.g., “Please describe …”
    2. To find out what they feel, ask them, e.g., “How do you feel about …?” or “How did you feel when …?”
    3. To find out what they think, ask them for their opinion on something, e.g., “How could the .. be improved?”
    4. To find out what they did, ask them to describe an activity they did.

    Two Types of Questions

    1. Open-ended:
    No options are provided for the respondent to answer the question. They must think of their own response and describe it in their own words. If respondents have and take the time to reflect on answers to the question, you can get more meaningful information than from closed questions.

    2. Closed:
    The respondent is given a set of alternative choices from which he or she can choose to answer the question, i.e., “yes,” “no,” multiple choice, a rating, ranking, etc. Closed questions can usually be answered quickly, allowing you to get a lot of information quickly. However, respondents may rush through the questions and not take enough time to think about their answers. Your choices may not include the answer they prefer.

    How you configure your questions together, depends on whether they’re used in questionnaires, interviews, or focus groups.

    Key Preparation

    Before you start to design your questions, clearly articulate what problem or need is to be addressed using the information to be gathered by the questions. Review why you’re doing the evaluation and what you hope to accomplish by it. This provides focus on what information you need and, ultimately, on what questions should be used. (See Planning Your Program Evaluation.)

    Directions to Respondents

    1. Include a brief explanation of the purpose of the questionnaire.
    2. Include a clear explanation of how to complete the questionnaire.
    3. Include directions about where to provide the completed questionnaire.
    4. Note conditions of confidentiality, e.g., who will have access to the information, if you’re going to attempt to keep their answers private and only accessed by yourself and/or someone who will collate answers. (Note that you do not guarantee confidentiality about their answers. If a court sued to see answers, you would not likely be able to stop access to this information. However, you can assure that you will make every reasonable attempt to protect access to their answers. You should consider using an informed consent form, as well.)

    Content of Questions

    1. Ask about what you need to know, i.e., get information in regard to the goals or ultimate questions you want to address by the evaluation.
    2. Will the respondent be able to answer your question, i.e., do they know the answer?
    3. Will respondents want to answer the question, i.e., is it too private or silly?

    Wording of Questions

    1. Will the respondent understand the wording, i.e., are you using any slang, cultural-specific or technical words?
    2. Are any words so strong that they might influence the respondent to answer a certain way? Attempt to avoid the use of strong adjectives with nouns in the questions, e.g., “highly effective government,” “prompt and reliable,” etc.
    3. To ensure you’re asking one question at a time, avoid the use of the word “and” in your question.
    4. Avoid using “not” in your questions if you’re having respondents answer “yes” or “no” to a question. Use of “not” can lead to double negatives, and cause confusion.
    5. If you use multiple-choice questions, be sure your choices are mutually exclusive and encompass the total range of answers. Respondents should not be confused about whether two or more alternatives appear to mean the same thing. Respondents also should not have a clearly preferred answer that is not among the alternative choices of an answer to the question.

    Order of Questions

    1. Be careful not to include so many questions that potential respondents are dissuaded from responding.
    2. Attempt to get recruit respondents’ motivation to complete the questionnaire. Start with fact-based questions and then go on to opinion-based questions, e.g., ask people for demographic information about themselves and then go on to questions about their opinions and perspectives. This gets respondents engaged in the questionnaire and warmed up before more challenging and reflective questions about their opinions. (Consider if they can complete the questionnaire anonymously; if so, indicate this on the form where you ask for their name.)
    3. Attempt to get respondents’ commentary in addition to their ratings, e.g., if the questionnaire asks respondents to choose an answer by circling an answer or provide a rating, ask them to provide commentary that explains their choices.
    4. Include a question to get respondents’ impressions of the questionnaire itself. For example, ask them if the questionnaire was straightforward to complete (“yes” or “no), and if not, provide suggestions about how to improve the questionnaire.
    5. Pilot or test your questionnaire on a small group of clients or fellow staff. Ask them if the form and questions seemed straightforward. Carefully review the answers to the questionnaires. Does the information answer the evaluation questions or provide what you want to know about the program or its specific services? What else would you like to know?
    6. Finalize the questionnaire. Finalize the questionnaire according to the results of the pilot. Put a date on the form so you can keep track of all future versions.

    For the Category of Evaluations (Many Kinds):

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