How to develop a questionnaire for a research paper?

By Priya Chetty on July 30, 2016

Merriam Webster defines questionnaire as “a written set of questions that are given to people in order to collect facts or opinion about something”. For a researcher, however, questionnaire refers to a set of questions developed “for obtaining statistically useful or personal information from individuals” [1]. In other words, questionnaire is a ‘tool’ used for collecting and recording information. This article discusses the types of questionnaires used in theses and dissertations and what all should be considered in questionnaire development process.

In research studies, questionnaire not only comprises of a set of questions but also with clear instructions and space for answers or administrative details. Questionnaires have a definite purpose related to the objectives of the research and are clear from the outset of the findings. Respondents should be aware of the purpose of the research. They should be told how and when they will receive feedback on the findings [2].

Different types of questionnaires

There are two types of questionnaires, close-ended and open-ended. Literature [3], [4] illustrate close-ended as structured and open-ended as unstructured/semi-structured questionnaires. Close-ended questions have sufficient alternatives to select or to fit in the information given by the respondent. However, open-ended is open for the answers. In short, close-ended questions are difficult to construct and open-ended are difficult to analyze.

This is how close-ended questions are set

Q1 is based on fact and Q2 is based on opinion. But both are structured. If the answer is no for Q1, then Q2 can be skipped. This type of question which is carried by the answer to the previous o is called Contingency Questions.

  1. Do you like online shopping for apparels?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Don’t Know
  • Not Sure
  1. If yes, which site/s do you visit often than others? (Tick in more than one)
  • Myntra
  • Flipkart
  • Amazon
  • Jabong

Open-ended questions are set like this:

  1. Given the rise of security threats, how do you manage to secure your transactions?

Such a question becomes an open-ended one, whose answer can be varied and a single subject can have more than one answer.

The process of questionnaire development

A well-designed questionnaire requires thought and effort. Some important components to consider while developing a questionnaire are:

Initial consideration

The questions should target a selected group of the population followed by, deciding the most appropriate method for administering the questionnaire (e.g. postal) and approach to sampling [6], [7].

Question content, wording and response format

The researcher should take into consideration three points:

  1. If it is just ‘nice to know’ and does not add value, leave it out.
  2. It should be clear and easy to understand.
  3. The questions do not create confusions [7].

Question sequence and layout

Questions should be numbered and ordered in a way that is logical to the respondent, with similarly themed questions grouped together. A technique known as ‘funneling’ begins with general questions before focusing down to more specific questions. Simple questions are often placed at the beginning to put respondents at ease. Some questions may require ‘routing’, (e.g. if ‘no’, go to Q4), but be careful not to make this too complex. It is also important to include clear instructions for the respondent or interviewer (e.g. ‘mark all that apply’) [6].

Pilot testing & revision

It is advisable to conduct  ‘pilot’ survey or pre-test your questionnaire with a small sample of respondents before use. The pilot should check people’s understanding and ability to answer the questions. Highlight areas of confusion and look for any routing errors. Similarly, it will also provide an estimate of the average time each questionnaire will take to complete. Any amendments highlighted by the pilot should be made to the questionnaire before issuing a final version [8].

Points to take care while developing a questionnaire



Factual information in order to classify people and their circumstances. Explore complex issues in great depth.
Gather straightforward information relating to people’s behaviour. Explore new, difficult or potentially controversial issues.
Look at the basic attitudes/opinions of a group of people relating to a particular issue. An ‘easy’ option which will require little time or effort (a common error).
Measure the satisfaction of customers with a product or service.
Collect ‘baseline’ information which can then be tracked over time to examine changes.

Sections of a Questionnaire

Generally, a questionnaire has the following three main sections.

  • Demographic: This section gathers information on the respondent’s basic details like age, gender, income, education etc.
  • General background: This section identifies the respondent’s knowledge about the issue at hand thereby evaluating their suitability for executing the study further. This section may include 4-5 questions.
  • Inferential: This section deals with the main questions perennial to the aim of the study. This section should be made much clear in line with the conceptual framework of the study where the independent and dependent variables are clearly marked down. A separate set of question for both these variables must be made within this section.


  1. Merriam-Webster, “Definition of Questionnaire,” Merriam-Webster, 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 19-Apr-2016].
  2. D. T. F. Burgess, “A general introduction to the design of questionnaires for survey research,” University of Leeds, 2001.
  3. B. Acharya, “Questionnaire Design,” Pulchok, Lalitpur, Nepal, 2010.
  5. C. N. Phellas, A. Bloch, and C. Seale, “STRUCTURED METHODS: INTERVIEWS, QUESTIONNAIRES AND OBSERVATION,” in Researching Society and Culture, 3rd ed., C. Seale, Ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2012, pp. 181–202.
  6. D. Robbins, Understanding Research Methods: A Guide for the Public and Nonprofit Manager. CRC Press, 2008.
  7. J. A. Krosnick and S. Presser, “Question and Questionnaire Design,” in Handbook of Survey Research, J. D. Wright and P. V. Marsden, Eds. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2010, pp. 263–314.
  8. M. S. Levine and N. K. Lowe, “Measuring Nurse Attitudes About Childbirth: Revision and Pilot Testing of the Nurse Attitudes and Beliefs Questionnaire.,” J. Nurs. Meas., vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 287–301, Jan. 2015.