The Survey Guide - How to Design a Professional Questionnaire

Appinio Research · 20.10.2022 · 11min read

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Market research heavily relies on questionnaires as they are essential in generating valuable insights into the minds of consumers in a short period of time.


However, creating an effective questionnaire requires careful consideration of various factors.


Before selecting the appropriate questions, it is important to establish a clear goal. This goal will serve as the foundation for developing questions and selecting appropriate answer types.


Choosing the right question techniques can be a challenging task.


Fortunately, this comprehensive questionnaire guide will provide you with a step-by-step approach, highlight potential pitfalls to avoid, and help you identify the most suitable question formats.


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Defining objectives


The first step in creating an effective survey is to define its objective clearly. This involves determining the specific information you wish to gather from your audience.


For instance, you may want to measure brand awareness, customer satisfaction, or the market demand for a new cosmetics line. Alternatively, you may want to gather feedback on how your advertising slogan is perceived by a particular age group or determine the most popular cover image for your publication.


Once you have identified your specific objective, you can develop appropriate questions that will form the basis of your survey. It is important to ensure that the questionnaire is neither too lengthy nor too short. A lengthy survey may discourage participants from completing it, while a short one may not collect enough data.


To achieve the desired results, it is recommended to begin with general questions and progress to specific ones, while also ensuring that the questions meet certain quality criteria.

Questionnaire construction

Questions in a questionnaire consist of two parts: the actual question and the corresponding answer format.


Before deciding on a question format, careful consideration should be given to the type of data that will be collected and whether all the relevant conclusions can be drawn from it.


Different question types such as open-ended, closed-ended, rating scales, and multiple-choice questions can be used, depending on the nature of the information being sought.


Closed Questions


Closed questions, also known as questions with a bound answer format, present participants with a set of predetermined answers to choose from.


These answer alternatives must be different from one another and avoid overlapping in content (disjunctiveness). Additionally, it is essential to ensure that the answer options encompass all possible responses to the question (exhaustiveness).


If not all potential answers can be included as predetermined options, it is recommended to include an open text field, allowing participants to enter their response if none of the given options seem to apply to them.


Forced-choice questions are often useful to avoid missing values, where participants must select an answer that is most applicable to them, ensuring that they complete the survey.


To further avoid the selection of inappropriate answers, an exclusive "None of the above" option is typically offered, which prevents participants from selecting an answer that does not apply to them.


Pros and Cons of Closed Questions

  • Quick answers
  • Simpler analysis
  • Easy to code answers
  • Only a set amount of answers is provided to respondents
  • Creative answers rather unlikely

There are many types of closed questions, we will cover them in detail in the next section.



Dichotomous questions


Dichotomous questions are those that offer only two response options for participants to choose from, such as "Yes" or "No" or "True" or "False".


In some cases, an additional response option of "I don't know" may be offered.


While dichotomous questions can be useful in quickly gathering an overview of consumer opinions, they are not suitable for all types of questions as the answers may not be highly differentiated, and may not provide enough information.


Additionally, not all questions can be framed in a way that offers only two alternative answers.


Single selection / single choice


Single selection questions, also known as single choice questions, are useful when a respondent is required to select only one answer alternative among many.


To prevent biased results, it is important to randomize the answer options by arranging them in a different order for each participant.

This helps to avoid the tendency for people to select the first answer option presented to them.


Multiple selection / multiple choice


For questions with multiple-choice, multiple answers can be selected from a number of pre-formulated answer alternatives.


They are also known as multiple-choice questions. For the same reason as for the dichotomous questions, it also makes sense here to randomize the answer options so that there are no biases due to order effects.


In addition, it is important to limit the number of possible answers in order to minimize the risk that respondents won't read them and pick something random.


Rating scales


Rating scales are a valuable tool to assess consumers' attitudes towards a product or idea.


Typically, a five or seven-point scale is used to gauge a respondent's level of agreement or preference. The middle point indicates neutrality, while the remaining points are either numbered or described with adjectives.


This type of question is quick to administer and allows for easy comparison of responses.


However, interpretation of the scale may vary between individuals, and responses may be skewed towards the middle due to a tendency to avoid extremes.


Rating scales can be unipolar or bipolar, with the latter having both a positive and negative pole, measuring both agreement and disagreement. While unipolar scales have a single zero point and only measures agreement, from which agreement levels increase in only one direction.


Analogue Scales


An analogue scale provides respondents with the ability to indicate their level of agreement with a statement or how much they like something.


Unlike a rating scale, an analogue scale uses a slider to specify a precise point that reflects the respondent's opinion. The slider allows the respondent to specify their precise opinion, and the scale may range from 0 to 100 or any other value range.


The increments of the scale can be predetermined, such as steps of 1, 5, or 10, which makes the answer options more differentiated. The more precise the increments, the more sensitive the scale is to subtle differences in opinions.


Analogue scales are useful when a researcher needs to get a more nuanced understanding of a respondent's opinion, compared to a rating scale. However, analogue scales can be more difficult for respondents to use and can take more time to complete.



Ranking questions are useful to determine consumers' preferences among different response options.


Respondents are asked to rank the provided options according to their preference.


Points are assigned based on the position of the option - the first option receives the highest number of points, the second option receives one point less, and so on.


For instance, if a participant ranks option A first, it gets 4 points, and if they rank option C second, it gets 3 points. The option with the highest number of points at the end of the survey is considered the most preferred one.


Ranking questions can provide valuable insights into consumer preferences and priorities, especially when there are several options to choose from. They can also be used to measure the relative importance of different factors or features.


Picture selection


Creating questions using a selection of images is particularly useful for finding out how customers like the design of a product.


It could also be used to find out which advertising slogan fits a product better or how the design of an app or website is received.


Picture selection is a valuable tool in cases where it is challenging to articulate questions or perspectives using verbal language.


Open-ended questions


When a company wants to gather information on topics that may not have been previously considered, open-ended questions are a great choice.

They are particularly useful for gathering impressions and ideas.


However, it is crucial to avoid overloading participants with too many open-ended questions in a questionnaire, as it may discourage them from answering in detail.


Open questions are ideal for text input and numeric data.

For instance, a question could be asked about the price consumers would be willing to pay for a particular product or service.


Text completion tasks are also considered open-ended questions, but are appropriate for less detailed answers or when only one word is needed to complete a sentence.


Pros and Cons of open-ended questions

  • Answers are not influenced by specifications of the question
  • Creative answers
  • Detailed insights
  • Impacted quality when respondents are not motivated / not in a good mood
  • Difficult to compare / interpret answers
  • Different levels of articulation among participants



Atypical Questions

Heat maps


Heat maps are a useful tool for gathering information from consumers through image-based questions.


These questions may include asking what catches their attention in an advertisement or where they believe a product is located in a photograph.


Heat maps can also be applied to maps to gather data related to location-based questions.


Photo / Video / Audio recordings


To obtain a better understanding of consumers' lifestyles, it can be valuable to observe how they live and how they concretely use a product or service.


By utilizing digital market research, it is now possible to gain insights into consumers' homes, such as their kitchen arrangements, refrigerator contents, and bedroom furniture.


A questionnaire can be designed to include questions that request consumers to take pictures of specific items or places, and they can also be encouraged to upload video or audio recordings to share their experiences or pronunciation of particular words.


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10 No-Gos when creating a questionnaire

  1. Double negation when asking questions
  2. Complex sentence constructions
  3. Unclear abbreviations
  4. Technical terms
  5. Ambiguity
  6. Double questions or linked statements
  7. Moral evaluations
  8. Suggestive or leading questions
  9. Missing answer options
  10. Not specifying time periods (e.g. recently, better using "in the last X months")

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