Naresh K. Malhotra, Georgia Institute of Technology
This chapter describes the importance of a questionnaire and presents the process for developing questionnaires and observational forms. Guidelines for questionnaire construction are provided at each stage of the process. In addition, commonly used scaling techniques and use of questionnaires in experimentation are discussed and the design of observational forms is presented.1
What Is a Questionnaire?
A questionnaire is a formalized set of questions for obtaining information from respondents. The overriding objective is to translate the researcher’s information needs into a set of specific questions that respondents are willing and able to answer. While this may seem straightforward, questions may yield very different and unanticipated responses. For example, how would you answer the following question: "Which State is larger, California or Texas?" Would you answer based on population or area?
Why Is a Questionnaire Important?
A questionnaire is the main means of collecting quantitative primary data. A questionnaire enables quantitative data to be collected in a standardized way so that the data are internally consistent and coherent for analysis. Imagine how difficult it would be to analyze the data of a national survey conducted by 40 different interviewers if the questions had not been asked in a standard way, that is, if the interviewers had asked different questions using different 176
wording and order. A questionnaire ensures standardization and comparability of the data across interviewers, increases speed and accuracy of recording, and facilitates data processing.
Questionnaire Design Process
No scientific principles guarantee an optimal or ideal questionnaire. Questionnaire design is as much an art as it is a science. The creativity, skill, and experience of the researcher play a major role in the end design. However, several guidelines are available to assist researchers in the questionnaire development process and to help them avoid major mistakes. The guidelines to support questionnaire design are shown as a series of steps.
What Information Is Needed?
The first step in questionnaire design is to specify the information needed. A continual review of the earlier stages of the research project, particularly the specific components of the problem, the research questions, and the hypotheses, will help keep the questionnaire focused. Questionnaires should also be designed with the target respondents in mind, taking into account their educational level and experience. The language used and the context of the questions must all be familiar to the respondents. Questions that are appropriate for college students may not be appropriate for those with only a high school education. Questionnaires that fail to keep in mind the characteristics of the respondents, particularly their educational level and experience, lead to a high incidence of “uncertain” or “no opinion” responses.
How Should Individual Questions Be Framed?
The researcher must determine what should be included in each question. This involves a determination of whether a question is necessary and whether more than one question is needed to obtain the information in an unambiguous way.
Is the Question Necessary?
Before including a question, the researcher should ask, "How will I use these data?" Questions that may be nice to know but that don't directly address the research problem should be eliminated. There are exceptions to this rule. Filler questions may be added to disguise the purpose or sponsorship of the project. For example, in brand studies, a researcher may include questions about the full range of competing brands so that the respondents won't know who is sponsoring the study. Early in the interviewing process when the researcher is attempting to build a relationship with...