The first rule is to design the questionnaire to fit the medium. Phone interviews cannot show pictures.
People responding to mail or Web surveys cannot easily ask “What exactly do you mean by that?” if
they do not understand a question. Intimate, personal questions are sometimes best handled by mail or
computer, where anonymity is most assured.
KISS - keep it short and simple. If you present a 20-page questionnaire most potential respondents will
give up in horror before even starting. Ask yourself what you will do with the information from each
question. If you cannot give yourself a satisfactory answer, leave it out. Avoid the temptation to add a
few more questions just because you are doing a questionnaire anyway. If necessary, place your
questions into three groups: must know, useful to know and nice to know. Discard the last group, unless
the previous two groups are very short.
Start with an introduction or welcome message. In the case of mail or Web questionnaires, this message
can be in a cover page or on the questionnaire form itself. If you are sending emails that ask people to
take a Web page survey, put your main introduction or welcome message in the email. When practical,
state who you are and why you want the information in the survey. A good introduction or welcome
message will encourage people to complete your questionnaire.
Allow a “Don't Know” or “Not Applicable” response to all questions, except to those in which you are
certain that all respondents will have a clear answer. In most cases, these are wasted answers as far as
the researcher is concerned, but are necessary alternatives to avoid frustrated respondents. Sometimes
“Don't Know” or “Not Applicable” will really represent some respondents' most honest answers to some
of your questions. Respondents who feel they are being coerced into giving an answer they do not want
to give often do not complete the questionnaire. For example, many people will abandon a questionnaire
that asks them to specify their income, without offering a "decline to state" choice.
For the same reason, include “Other” or “None” whenever either of these is a logically possible answer.
When the answer choices are a list of possible opinions, preferences, or behaviors, you should usually
allow these answers.
On paper, computer direct and Internet surveys these four choices should appear as appropriate. You
may want to combine two or more of them into one choice, if you have no interest in distinguishing
between them. You will rarely want to include “Don't Know,” “Not Applicable,” “Other” or “None” in a
list of choices being read over the telephone or in person, but you should allow the interviewer the
ability to accept them when given by respondents.