It is that time of year again, when students are knuckling down and having one last push at their dissertations, something which I do not envy (I am still having nightmares of my own!) 

You can easily pick out those who were slow off the mark; usual traits include numerous tweets about sleepless nights, doing all-nighters in the library and most prevalent of all the desperate pleas on Facebook for participants to take part in a ‘Questionnaire’.

Questionnaire design in market research

Having come to the end of my day and not completed my good deed I set out to help one desperate student. However my patience quickly ran out, it soon became apparent the ‘questionnaire’ may have been written in the pub, or in a state of panic. The questions clearly had a case of ADHD, they were jumping from topic to topic, running two subjects alongside each other with poor routing (if any) and had more scales than a large fish.

It was a disaster, but I was more concerned with the poor quality data that this questionnaire would attain. Sadly, it is not only students who are guilty of poor questionnaires, a number of elements essential to obtaining  good quality data can easily be overlooked by those not in the research world, who like to ‘have a go’.

With services such as Survey Monkey available to just about everyone, there is a temptation for a ‘do- it- yourself’ job. We understand that this seems like a cheaper and easier option if you want basic, underwhelming average data. Shockingly though there is an art to questionnaire design – one which we here at Mustard have down to a tee.  So we thought that we would share our top 10 tips for questionnaire design for all the non-researchers out there. Here is our advice on how to design a questionnaire for a survey:

1. Invite respondents to the research party

Positioning your survey upfront is important. We want respondents to feel that their views are important and we need to highlight what the benefit is to them in taking part. Don’t lie – be open and honest in advising how much of their time will be required, no one wants to miss Coronation Street!  True market research can’t be used to generate sales leads, and where individual views are to be fed back to the client you should get permission to do this and explain how this will be used.

2. You can’t sit with us

As a general rule of thumb you would always look to exclude anyone that works in marketing, advertising or market research. The theory is that they will have insight into why certain questions are being asked, and may therefore bias the results. For similar reasons you should look to screen out anyone who works in your sector.

3. Take them on a journey 

The best questionnaires flow in a logical order for the respondent and thus make for a more survey friendly experience. For example, it is deemed good practice to order questions for satisfaction surveys in line with the order that the customer will have experienced the service.

4. Speak to your peeps, keep it real

Often when designing survey questionnaires there is a tendency to ask questions in a formal style. Its far better to write the questions as you would read them out. This is particularly important when designing questionnaires for telephone and face-to-face interviews, there is nothing worse than someone clearly reading from a script and often you miss snippets of good insight.

5. It not all about length, short and sweet is best

In short, avoid boredom. If a questionnaire is too long you run the risk of survey fatigue, where the respondent gets bored and as such the quality in their feedback will deteriorate. The length of your survey will ultimately depend on what channel you are using to engage with the target audience. Try to keep self-completion (especially online survey questionnaires) shorter.

6. Pitch slap them

Keep them interested! Another way to avoid survey fatigue and ensure that the respondent remains engaged throughout is to use a variety of different question types. For online and face-to-face surveys, more interactive techniques can also be useful to keep the respondent interested. Throw in some interpretive dance, see what happens.

7. Omg, that’s totes inapprop’s don’t get emosh

If you’re not under 25 and most likely female, you’re probably lost. Avoid using any abbreviations or jargon unless you are confident that the terms will be clearly understood by your target audience. If they can’t understand you, how can you expect good insights?

8. On a scale of 1-10, out of 5 what would you rate your disagreement in monkeys?

Where using Likert scale questions, we would advise using the same point scale throughout. This keeps things simple and consistent for the respondent. In certain instances it also opens up opportunities to use a variety of analysis techniques to extract maximum value in interpreting the findings.

9. Facebook stalkers’ paradise  

Make sure you build a profile, so you can classify the respondents. This will allow you to assess to what extent the sample is representative of the population, and also to analyse the results to identify any statistically significant results by segment (assuming that you have the software to do this). Typically these questions should be asked at the end of a survey, but you may need to ask some at the beginning for routing and screening purposes.

10. All typos are your own, you hipster

No, really – keep them to yourself (and no doubt your twitter followers). Whether sent to the client or direct to a respondent, any questionnaire with a misspelt name or typo looks bad. Always make sure it is spell checked and professionally proof read to minimise the possibility of this. Also pilot the questionnaire with a small number of typical respondents to ensure that the questions make sense, can be answered, and that there are no errors in the routing.

I hope that this blog has gone some way to bridge the gap between poor and average results for all you ‘have a go hero’s’.

Remember – if you do choose the medium of interpretive dance, please send all your videos to our Mustard office! 

Liz Brierley is a research executive at Mustard – you can get hold of her to discuss this post or any others on Twitter @MustardLiz