How to... use questionnaires effectively

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The process of constructing a questionnaire


A questionnaire must go through several stages as follows:

Image: questionnaire stages

"The 'art' of questionnaire construction: some important considerations for manufacturing studies" by Nicolaos Synodinos (Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 14 No. 3)

Establishing your objectives

You will find organizing and writing the questionnaire much easier if you have its objectives in mind at all times, from the initial drafting of the questionnaire through to the revisions following pretesting. It is normal to proceed from a hypothesis (or hypotheses) when developing a questionnaire. If this has been proposed by a literature review, you may well have a framework which will help you suggest your questions and formulate their order, or you may be operating with an existing tool such as a student satisfaction questionnaire. It is also not unusual to combine a fully structured questionnaire technique with an exploratory study in which interviewees (possibly key informant) are asked a series of open-ended questions.


In "Is your TQM programme successful? A self-assessment tool for managers" (Mohammad Ahmadi and Marilyn M. Helms, The TQM Magazine, Vol. 7 No. 2), the authors researched the TQM literature and used the critical elements indicated by that literature to help develop their survey instrument.

Susan Aldridge and Jennifer Rowley, in "Measuring customer satisfaction in higher education" (Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 6 No. 4), used a student satisfaction questionnaire as the basis for their survey.

The American Statistical Organization also suggests starting with your data collection goals – what information do you need and from whom – and drafting an outline of the final report, which pinpoints the information requirements. From this a data analysis plan can be formulated which may include a table or a flowchart which links everything together at a high level, and which thereby helps to formulate the questions needed to gather the data.

Administration method

See "Different methods of delivering questionnaires" section.

Questionnaire construction

See "The organization and presentation of questionnaires", "Constructing the questions", and "Question format and response elicitation" sections.


A very important part of the questionnaire contruction process is its piloting, known as pretesting. This involves testing your research instrument in conditions as similar as possible to the research, not in order to report results but rather to check for glitches in wording of questions, lack of clarity of instructions, etc. – in fact, anything that could impede the instrument's ability to collect data in an economical and systematic fashion.

Pretests should be conducted systematically, with potential respondents and using the same method of administration. The temptation to hurry over them, using just a convenience sample, should be avoided.

It is also beneficial to pretest the questionnaire with specialists in question construction, who may be able to pick up potential difficulties which might not be revealed in a pretest with respondents.

If there are a variety of respondent types, all should be included in the pretest, and if the questionnaire is to be in several languages, it should be tested in each language.


In "Linking manufacturing planning and control to the manufacturing environment" (W. Rocky Newman and V. Sridharan, Integrated Manufacturing Systems, Vol. 6 No. 4), the authors conducted a survey on the relationship between the manufacturing environment and the use of MPC systems. Their pretests were particularly thorough, and are described as follows:

"A two-stage pretest of the survey instrument included initially mailing it to colleagues in academia, consulting and industry, and soliciting comments to assess the instrument for its validity and consistency. A revised instrument was then mailed to 55 management contacts in a wide range of industries for completion. With about 40 per cent of these firms responding, several participants were contacted by telephone to clarify their responses further. Based on their combined feedback, a final version of the instrument was mailed to 1,500 manufacturing facilities in a mid-western state with more than 150 employees. The assumption underlying this choice was that larger facilities are more likely to have a formal infrastructure support system for manufacturing planning and control."