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Designing questionnaires

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Use this page to learn about the basics of questionnaire design.

Defining questionnaires

A questionnaire is a set of questions or other prompts designed to collect information from the respondent (person filling out the questionnaire). They can be online or paper-based.

What to include in your questionnaire

In the introduction to your questionnaire, make clear the following:

  • The purpose of your questionnaire and how it’s helping you to find out about a topic.
  • Details of the organisation that has commissioned or is carrying out the questionnaire.
  • How long it will take to complete.
  • That you’re seeking informed consent.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • How the information will be used – emphasise that the information respondents provide will be treated confidentially, and that you will collate and report on their answers anonymously.
  • What benefits, discomfort or risks there may be – for example, will they be asked to provide sensitive information?
  • The closing date for completing the questionnaire and details of any incentives you’re offering, such as a prize draw.
  • The contact for respondents who have a query.

Format and structure your questionnaire

  • Keep it as short as possible. The longer your questionnaire, the more likely it is that the respondent will get fed up and quit, or stop answering questions authentically.
  • Think about the flow. Are questions about similar topics grouped together?
  • Consider layout and spacing.
  • Make sure it is accessible. Most online questionnaire software includes accessibility reviews and tips.
  • Use filter questions (also called routing or branching) in online questionnaires to make sure respondents only see questions relevant to them.

Read more about digital accessibility in our guidance on digital accessibility and inclusion.

Design your questions

There are two main types of questions:

  • Open questions – used for descriptive answers, allowing the respondent more freedom to express their views. This is helpful to find out about people's experiences, perceptions, views and feelings, particularly when you want to explore a topic more deeply.
  • Closed questions – used to provide quantitative information, usually requiring a single answer choice from a respondent. You can use scales for the answer options. Closed questions are generally easier to analyse and present.

It’s often helpful to use a combination of open and closed questions.

When you are designing your questions, you should be guided by three main criteria. Questions should be:

  • Easy to understand and answer. To encourage a response ask questions that are simple, self-explanatory, and visually appealing
  • Relevant. Don’t use your questionnaire as an opportunity to collect other information not relevant to your immediate objective. This can make the questionnaire longer and less appealing to the participants.
  • Valid. If you're designing your own questionnaire it is worth reviewing questions to check if they are likely to measure what you intend to measure. Ideally they should be linked to indicators in your evaluation framework.

For example, if a project is working with unemployed young people, an outcome may be:

'Young people are more work ready'.

You may have the following indicators:

  • Level of motivation to find work
  • Level of confidence in seeking work

You could ask:

However, you may get more objective evidence of both motivation and confidence with the following question:

You may then ask follow-up questions on CVs, job applications and interviews. If they’re not looking for a job you should explore why that’s the case.

This isn’t a great question because:

  • It’s asking about two concepts at once (confidence and happiness).
  • It’s a leading question because it assumes the respondent experienced a change in one of those areas.
  • It’s using jargon (extra-expedited ultra-learning event).

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 31 March 2023

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