Creating the Correct List of Questions for a Survey

Hey gang! This week we are going to discuss a challenge that every researcher is confronted with when creating a survey: How to design the right question list for their questionnaire? This seemingly straightforward and easy task can become incredibly difficult to accomplish without taking the proper steps. Not only is coming up with questions without a plan more demanding, but a researcher who does not use caution when creating their list of questions may collect information that will later be proven unnecessary or misleading for their organization’s needs. This most will likely lead to the wasting of company resources, time, and even worse, poor management decisions based on erroneous data.

Thinking of Questions
As my fifth grade teacher used to say, “It is always hard to get the right answers when you are asking the wrong questions.” Essentially, a survey is only as good as the questions created will allow it to be. That is why the process in designing your questions is so integral to the success of your study. In this blog, I will go over the steps I personally use to develop a list of questions for any of my surveys.

Defining the Problem

The name of the game when making your survey is to only create questions that are directly related to gaining the information you need! This will keep your survey short and focused, which in turn prevents respondent fatigue and allows for a smooth data analysis process. So before one begins to outline the questions of their survey, they need to decide the reason this task is necessary in the first place. This begins with defining a business problem and research problem. The business problem is goal oriented and asks what the decision maker needs to do, whereas the research problem is information oriented and asks what data is necessary to make an educated decision on the business problem.

Say I owned a restaurant and noticed a decrease in my revenue. I may come up with something like this:

Business Problem: What areas need to be improved and how should they be improved in order to increase the revenue of my restaurant?
Research Problem: Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the restaurant by gaining feedback from the restaurant’s customer base.

Creating the Research Purpose and Objectives

With the business and research problems defined, it is now time to build a research plan that will be able to properly address the issue. It would be unwise for me to begin writing questions before understanding the main objectives of my study. If I were to jump directly into making the questions now, the survey structure would be loaded with a mix-mash list of questions that are randomly put together. This leads to omitted questions that would have been useful and questions that were included that are either redundant or misleading to the data. Instead, it is best to create a clear research purpose, followed by a list of its research objectives.

The research purpose is a reiteration of your research problem, with the added description of the type of survey that will be carried out. The research objective should break the research purpose into easy to manage parts. Continuing with my restaurant example, we can see what my research purpose and objective would look like:

Research Purpose: Measure the level of customer satisfaction for our restaurant and collect feedback in order to better meet our customer needs.

Research Objectives: Measure the level of customer satisfaction and collect feedback for each of the following aspects of our restaurant:
1) Food and Drink Menu
2) Customer Service
3) Restaurant Environment
4) Comfort and Cleanliness
5) Overall

With the research purpose broken into five distinct objectives, it is now easy to create a questionnaire that devotes several questions for each objective. In essence, the objectives act to organize your survey`s overarching research purpose into separate sections that will focus the scope of your study. A survey that does not have clear research objectives will be disorganized as the questions will probably be in a random order and missing key parts of the topics which need to be researched.

Research objectives also work to subcategorize the survey into quantifiable sections for data analysis. In regards to my restaurant study, I will be able to measure each aspect of the restaurant against each other because my questions will be clearly separated into different groups. This will allow me to realize which aspects of my restaurant are strengths and weaknesses by providing an overall score for each objective, before I begin to look at each question individually.

TIP: Do not forget that your survey questions should always be seeking for underlying information that will help you move forward. Because of this, each objective would be designed to have closed-ended questions to measure the strength of an aspect of my restaurant as well an open-ended question to gain feedback on how to improve. For more information on closed-ended and open-ended questions visit my previous blog, “Comparing Closed-Ended and Open-Ended Questions.”

Let Me Know What You Think

I have always felt it is the planning put into research that allows one to find the data that will be truly useful. That being said, many surveyors use different techniques to plan out their question list. I want to hear the steps you take to prepare your survey questions. If you do not yet have an account in FluidSurveys, sign up today by visiting our account page!

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3 Comments

  • ian says:

    I am starting to do some local marketing in my area of Brandon, FL. I am required to email contacts. Phone numbers are easier to find, how do I get email lists? I need to reach the Human resource department or the decision maker. Any suggestions?

    • Rick Penwarden says:

      Hi Ian! That is a great idea for a blog post that I would love to write. Developing a list of emails for a sample is tricky to say the least. Most online survey samples that represent the general public come from panels (paid respondents) or intercepts (whether through invitations on customer receipts, or a dialogue box on your website).
      Since you are surveying locally, I would suggest trying to find a way to invite people to your survey through intercepts based on the nature of your organization and use incentives to ensure respondents are motivated to participate. If you are contacting Human Resource departments in your area, you can use each company’s website to find the best way to contact them.