The questionnaire in the survey process

The questionnaire represents one part of the survey process. It is, however, a very vital part of the process. A poorly written questionnaire will not provide the data that are required or, worse, will provide data that are incorrect.

The first task with any survey is to define the objectives that the study is to answer. These will relate to the issue at hand and may be very specific, such as to determine which of two alternative product formula­tions is preferred, or rather broader, such as to segment the market into different user groups. Where the objectives are specific, the questionnaire writer’s task is usually rather more straightforward than where the survey is exploratory in nature. A specific objective usually implies that there is a specific question to be answered and it is the questionnaire writer’s job to find the most appropriate way of answering that question.

Where research is exploratory, then the questionnaire writer’s task is less predetermined, and a major part of the task is determining what data need to be collected and how they are best collected. With this type of project it is common to carry out preliminary qualitative research to determine what the issues are within the market, and how subjects in the market view them and talk about them. This will help the questionnaire writer to determine which questions to ask and the type of language to use in order to carry out the ‘conversation’ with respondents in a way that they will understand and will help them to provide the information that is sought.

A questionnaire writer who is not familiar with the vocabulary of a market can very quickly come unstuck. This does not just relate to complex business-to-business markets, but can arise almost anywhere. A questionnaire on the subject of bras to be asked of a sample of women was designed by a man, and referred throughout to ‘front-opening’ and ‘back-opening’ bras. Very soon after the piloting of the questionnaires had begun, the researcher received a visit from his fearsome head of field, who pointed out in no uncertain terms that, ‘while men may “open” bras, women most definitely “fasten” them’.

Before any questions can be asked, though, the sample must be defined, and the sampling method and the data collection medium must be determined. These are all crucial stages in designing a survey that is appropriate to answering the objectives, and although outside the scope of this book, all will have an influence on the way in which the question­naire is written.

After the interviews have been carried out and the data collected, they will need to be analysed. How the data are to be collated and analysed will have an influence on how the questionnaire is written and laid out, as well as determining some of the questions that will need to be asked for analysis purposes. A screening questionnaire for a focus group of eight people will not have to make the same allowances for data input and analysis that a survey of 1,000 people must make, nor ensure that all likely cross-analyses are anticipated and the appropriate questions asked.

Questionnaire writing thus does not exist in a vacuum, but is an inte­gral part of the survey process. How the questionnaire is written thus affects the remaining survey processes, and what is to happen in those processes affects how the questionnaire is written.

Source: Brace Ian (2018), Questionnaire Design: How to Plan, Structure and Write Survey Material for Effective Market Research, Kogan Page; 4th edition.

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