Surveying for Dummies: A Beginner's Guide

As you probably know, developing a well-structured questionnaire is a rather challenging task. When working on creating a good survey, the researcher should consider the content, type, words, and other important aspects of the questions. In this article, we are going to analyze the steps of developing a great questionnaire, as well as evaluate the key questionnaire techniques. So, forget about the “surveying for dummies” searches! We will help you become a professional researcher!

Surveying for Dummies. Open-Ended and Closed-Ended Questions

Each researcher working on a questionnaire should clearly understand its complex nature. In particular, the researcher needs to understand what methods (written, oral, or electronic), as well as what types of questions (open-ended or closed-ended) will be used in a survey.

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions do not provide the respondent with the variety of options as they are usually phrased in such a way to let the respondents explain their answers in a well-developed text that will take from one-two sentences to several pages.

For instance, if you are creating a questionnaire with the purpose to understand the respondent`s position regarding the death penalty, you may ask the following open-ended questions:

    • What are the risks related to the death penalty?
    • What are the benefits of introducing the death penalty in a particular country?

If you want to get the extended answer, you may ask the question in such a way:

      • What are the risks related to the death penalty? Explain your answer in detail.

Closed-Ended Questions

Unlike open-ended questions, closed-ended ones limit the respondent`s answer to several possible options allowing to choose from several variants. Sometimes, these variants include only yes or no answers.

Alternatively, the respondent may be asked to answer the questions using only the words true or false.

The most popular of the ranking scales is a Likert scale. Based on this scale, the researcher states a certain viewpoint and the respondent should rank this statement according to their level of agreement.

For instance:

A statement: Death penalty should be legalized.

The respondent is asked to choose one option from the following variants:

      • I strongly disagree;
      • I strongly agree;
      • I have no opinion about that;
      • I somewhat disagree.

It should be noted that the experienced researcher never chooses only one type of questions but prefers to combine them in order to receive the best result. It is recommendable to use the closed-ended questions at the beginning of the questionnaire when the respondent is not that confident, and finalize the survey with the open-ended questions when the respondent can give the objective opinion about the problem discussed.

Common Questionnaire Format

  • Rating scale. If you want to make the format of your questionnaire truly attractive, we recommend you to ask the respondents to rate a concept, idea, policy, or individual based on a closed-ended scale format that will include four or five items. For instance, a Likert scale mentioned above provides the respondents with the statements instead of questions. These statements define the level of respondent`s agreement with the specific issue, idea, or concept.
  • Magnitude estimation scale. Using this format, you may ask the respondents to rank a certain idea, concept, or issue. For this purpose, you may define some result as the standard that will define all the other answers. For instance, if the respondent`s favorite movie is The Avatar, ask him/her to rate it and give an assessment of another movie in a similar genre. If the mark will be less than 10, feel free to ask the respondent to explain the answer. Usually, these scales are rather difficult to complete, but they are very helpful for providing variance explanations over usual scaling.
  • Ranking scales. Whenever using this format, you have to ask the respondent to rank a set of ideas, things, concepts, etc. For instance, the researcher can provide the respondents with the list of touristic destinations and ask him/her to start from the destination they like the best moving to the one they like the least. Such a format allows learning about the respondent`s preferences without extra efforts.
  • Funneling questions. When such a format is used, the respondent addresses the complex issue by answering a series of questions that start from the broad answers narrowing down to the very specific ones. In such a format, the researcher may start from the broad open-ended questions and gradually move to the specific, closed-ended ones.
  • Inverted funneling questions. In such a type of questionnaire, the respondent addresses the issue starting from answering the specific questions and gradually moves to answering broad open-ended questions.
  • Factorial questions. Such a format requires using some story or vignette to study a particular decision-making process. For example, you may suggest the following story to your respondents. “Imagine that you are in a burning house. What would be your actions? Would you choose to save your own life or wake up other people sleeping upstairs”?
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Choose the Right Wording

Indeed, selecting the right wording is a particularly important part of writing a survey questionnaire since it is rather difficult to develop shared definitions or meanings between the respondent and a researcher.

Analyzing this issue in The Practice of Social Research, Professor Crew gives an example of a survey that failed because of serious problems with wording. The interview survey based on Likert-type questions that ranged from “very little” to “very much.” The interview was conducted in a small rural town. Although there were no reasons to think that the experiment would go wrong, the problem occurred. As it was a small town with its own dialect, the word “very” had an idiomatic usage close to what we know as “poorly.” Consequently, one can only imagine the difference between the answers and real results.

Though such a case is rather an exception, the researcher should be very careful when picking up the words for his/her questions keeping in mind that a single mistake can lead to wrong results of the whole survey. If you want to create a great questionnaire, you need to follow our suggestions:

All the questions should be written in a clear and straightforward language. Syntax and rhetoric should be understandable for everyone. If the respondent wants to have the background information about the survey, make sure to provide it.

      • All your questions should be tailored to a specific group of respondents;
      • All questions should be simple and short. Do not make your respondents search for new information to answer your questions;
      • Specific questions are always better than general ones. An experienced researcher knows that the general question can open a field for many interpretations among the respondents.
      • Try to avoid the questions that are too personal or direct. By including these questions in your survey, you will make your respondent feel uncomfortable.

We assure you that following our efficient tips, you will be able to create a professional questionnaire for any group of respondents. If you are a student, and your professor asked you to create a questionnaire, we recommend you not to underestimate the value of this assignment and ask your instructor for an efficient questionnaire writing guide. Also, we recommend you to find the example of a good questionnaire available on the web that will serve the source for your inspiration.

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This task will help you improve your research, writing, and organization skills. What is more, you will improve your communication skills, which will allow you to find mutual understanding with people from different cultures, which is a particularly useful skill in the contemporary diversified world.

So, stop surfing the web with the words “I need help with surveying for dummies.” Follow our guide and reach success! Alternatively, you can find a reliable writing assistant and purchase high-quality questionnaire writing services. If you do not have the time or excellent writing skills, you can always count on our survey questionnaire writing service!

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