Questionnaires can be used qualitatively or quantitatively. As with all other methods, the value of the questionnaire depends on its ability to provide data which can answer the research question, and the way that a questionnaire is designed and worded can be significant in this. A questionnaire designed to capture levels of student satisfaction may well provide information to this end, but for researchers interested in more than this, such measures could amount to little more than superficial data. Careful consideration needs to be given to what the questionnaire is intended to elicit, and so – depending on their study – some researchers might find it more useful to use pre-existing standardised questionnaires based on validated scales such as those used to measure self-efficacy (Bandura, 2006) or agency (Tapal et al., 2017).
"The questionnaire is a widely used and useful instrument for collecting survey information, providing structured – often numerical – data, able to be administrated without the presence of the researcher and often comparatively straightforward to analyse. These attractions have to be counterbalanced by the time taken to develop, pilot and refine the questionnaire, by the possible unsophistication and limited and superficial scope of the data that are collected […]. The researcher will have to judge the appropriateness of using a questionnaire for data collection, and, if so, what kind of questionnaire it should be."
Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2018, p.471
Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2018) provide a comprehensive overview of the different issues and stages involved in questionnaire design and it is important that each of these is given full consideration from the outset. These issues include:
- Intended population/sample – as this can influence the form, wording and means of administrating the questionnaire
- Intended method of data analysis – to ensure that questions are framed appropriately
- Type of questionnaire: structured/closed, semi-structured or “unstructured”
- Question/response types – e.g. dichotomous questions, multiple choice, Likert/rating scales, constant sum, rank ordering, open ended
- Wording of questions – e.g. need for clarity, risk of leading responses
- Opportunity to pilot and revise questionnaire
As with all educational research, attention must be given to the particular ethical and practical considerations involved in this particular type of research. For many researchers, online survey tools such as Qualtrics provide a convenient means of administering questionnaires but these require attention to particular considerations – which Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2018) provide further detailed guidance on in Chapter 18.
Quantitative questionnaire design
A key priority with quantitative questionnaire design is to be clear from the outset exactly what it is you want to measure, why you want to do this and whether your proposed design is actually going to generate the sort of data you need. Do you want, for instance, to generate inferential or just descriptive statistics? Different question types lend themselves to different scales of data (rating scales to ordinal data, for instance) so thinking ahead to the analysis is an essential part of the design phase. Equally, if a pre- and post- study design is deemed appropriate, then the essential principles of experimental design need to be factored into the design and administration of the questionnaires.
Qualitative questionnaire design
If your area of research renders it necessary to obtain qualitative data, it might be worth considering in the first instance if interviews or focus groups might provide a more appropriate means of eliciting this. Self-completion questionnaires do not provide scope for probing further if questions are left unanswered or incomplete, and participants can vary enormously in terms of the time they are prepared to devote and the amount they are prepared to write in completing open text questionnaires. If questionnaires are most appropriate, however, then the general principles of good questionnaire design (layout, wording, ordering and so on) need to be considered alongside the practicality and feasibility of completing the questionnaire from the participants’ point of view.