How to write a good questionnaire

How to write,questionnaire,questions,answersWriting the bare bones of a questionnaire should, some say, be left to the industrial psychologists and other scientific experts who know how to get inside our brains and wriggle around in there to extract useful information.

I don’t agree. (Now there’s a surprise, huh.) Why?

I have quite a lot of experience now working with questionnaires devised, produced, asked, assembled and crunched within the medical field. Much as I respect the fact that experts far more qualified than I am get paid to produce these projects, it worries me when I see the results that shake down from them.

It’s not about the questionnaires, but about the questions

This is what really gets me blowing my little top. As a volunteer within medical arenas, my associates and I sometimes are asked to take up the negative issues identified by such questionnaires – even questionnaires done on a national basis – and do something to help remedy the problems identified.

Then I look at the questions that have been asked of – in these cases – patients in hospitals. And my heart sinks.

Much as it isn’t my place to rant about the quality of questions asked in such major national surveys, I can’t help but feel resentful about the way that our local area has – let’s say – been criticized for falling down in one particular area. This is when the way a question about a particular topic has been phrased so as either a) it doesn’t allow for respondents to answer fully and honestly or b) it even – accidentally – leads respondents towards one particular response or another.

And digging down deeper in such questionnaires, I find many other discrepancies that worry me. How hard, really, is it to write a questionnaire that gets to the heart of issues and truly invites respondents to react truthfully?

Or do these questionnaires and surveys merely act to further the organizations’ policies and dictats in a way that shuts the public up without rocking any real boats?

What does this teach us about how to write a questionnaire in a commercial context?

I’ve had my little rant about how to write a good questionnaire in the public sector … or not! But the upside is that we can take what I and many others learn from our experiences in the public sectors and other similar areas, crunch up the mistakes made, and apply the enlightened conclusions to our questionnaires we use in business and marketing.

Here are some of the issues I have noticed and tried to learn from when devising and preparing questionnaires.

Never mind what Head Office says: identify what a questionnaire really needs to achieve.

Usually the real  answer to this question is quite different from what the Head Honchos would admit to publicly. Get messy and find out the real truth, otherwise the exercise will be pointless. You don’t have to broadcast the real reasons to the gutter press; as long as you and the others in the compilation team know, that’s all that matters. And if you’re in a business of your own, be just as realistic and hard on yourself. Be rigorously honest about what you really want and need to know.

Work backwards from those key points when considering the questions to ask.

Let’s use the example of a new yoga teacher in town who wants to set up in business, and has access to a list or group of people who have studied or are studying yoga locally but may or may not not be entirely satisfied with the tuition and general service they’re getting.

Your objectives, then, are to find out what’s potentially wrong or at least lacking with current yoga class offerings in the town, and how people feel they could be improved on, so that you can deliver tuition and service that will work better for them.

The key issues (and not just the most obvious ones) that affect people’s choice of yoga classes are (say) as follows:

  1. Location of classes
  2. Timings: days and times?
  3. Safe parking nearby
  4. Length of sessions
  5. Provision for childcare
  6. Socializing before/after

Phrase questions in a way that will deliver useful answers.

How to write,questionnaire,writing,businessGiven that you cut through the crap and get some useful background to the real objectives of a questionnaire, apply your own knowledge and inspiration so you draft your questionnaire in a way that will work for respondents. Below I’ve given you some examples of the way to ask good, probing questions above, but for more on that and how to follow the basic rules of journalistic interview questions, check out this article here.

In the meantime here’s how I would go about addressing each of those issues in the questions, with suggestions for multiple choice / tick box responses, the choices you could use for that.

1.Location of classes

*How satisfied are you with locations of yoga classes in XTOWN? Very satisfied, OK, could be better, other (please say what)
*What are the three most important issues, for you, about the location of your yoga classes? #1, #2, #3
*In an ideal world, what location in XTOWN would be best for you, and why? (please say where and why)

2.Timings of classes

*How satisfied are you with the days and times of yoga classes available in XTOWN? Very satisfied, OK, could be better, other (please say what and why)
*What are the most important considerations for you about the days and times of yoga classes in XTOWN? Please rank in order of importance of classes available – early morning, during school hours, at lunchtime, early evenings, later evenings (after 7:00 p.m.), Saturdays, Sundays, other (please say what)
*What are the most important considerations for you about the days and times of yoga classes during the school holidays? Available evenings, available weekends, doesn’t matter
*In an ideal world, what would be your favorite days/times for yoga classes in XTOWN? (please say what and why)

3.Safe parking nearby

*When you’re on your own, how important is it for you to be able to park safely right by your yoga class? Very important, very important at night, convenient, not important
*When you have one or more children with you, how important is it for you to be able to park safely right by your yoga class? Very important, very important at night, convenient, not important

4.Length of sessions

*What is the best length of yoga class for you? More than one hour, one hour, less than one hour, other (please say what)
*How satisfied are you with the length of yoga classes currently available in XTOWN? Very satisfied, satisfied, OK, not satisfied (please say why)

5.Provision for childcare

*What facilities are there for childcare / nursery care at current yoga classes in XTOWN? (Good, OK, none)
*How important is it for you that childcare / nursery / crèche is available at yoga classes here in XTOWN? (Very important, important, not really important, doesn’t matter)
*If you feel a childcare / nursery / crèche facility is important to help you enjoy your yoga classes, how much would the option of a good on-the-spot childcare / nursery / crèche facility influence your decision to change your yoga classes? (Please say here)

6.Socializing before / after

*What social activities connected with yoga classes are available in XTOWN? Some: please describe, none
*How important is it to you to have social activities connected with your yoga classes? We have some already, none available, would love some, would be nice to have some, not bothered one way or the other, don’t consider it necessary

Now: how do you crunch the results?

Given that you’re hardly likely to run and crunch surveys amounting to thousands of respondents, common sense is your key to success here. From the responses you gain from a questionnaire as I have described above, you should get a reasonably sharp indication of the circumstances surrounding your business in your locality, and an equally sharp indication of where you can improve on current offerings so you can forge ahead of your competition.

blog,writing,news,blogging,business,Suzan St Maur,,how to write betterThere are no magic formulae with questionnaire results acquired on this basis, and that’s probably a good thing. Play with your numbers and results as you will; what inevitably will shake down is a bunch of very useful home truths.

Conclusion? Ask questions that don’t invite bullsh*t answers, and you won’t get any.

How do you feel about questionnaires? How well do they work for you? Please comment as your views will be of great interest to all our readers.





  1. Some really good points, as ever, thank you. I couldn\\\’t read this article without thinking of one of my favourite Yes Minister sketches, //

  2. LOL Jon … will watch that later!