Questionnaires and Surveys

Questionnaires are a method for gathering written information from people on a variety of questions. Questionnaires can contain qualitative and quantitative questions, open-ended or closed questions.

Usually with a questionnaire one can reach more participants than with an interview or with a focus group, however in a questionnaire one does not have the ability to ask follow up questions to better understand what people think.

Sometimes the word survey is also used – a survey usually describes the whole methodology of implementing a questionnaire with a group of participants and analyzing results, while a questionnaire describes the actual data collection tool.

Things to prepare before administering a questionnaire

  • Who are your participants?  
  • What format will you use to administer the questionnaire? This partly depends on your participants, what resources they have and how you can bestreach them.
    • Using online tools and apps, such as Google Forms, Surveymonkey, LimeSurvey, or ExpiWell. Your school or institution might already have an online tool that they use for questionnaires. 
    • Pen-and-paper questionnaire, where you print out the questionnaire and give it to people to fill out and then collect the filled out questionnaires from them.
    • Approaching and meeting people directly to ask them the questionnaire questions, e.g. in the school halls, in the school yard, at an event, or on the street, and filling in the questionnaire form yourself on a clipboard. 
  • How will you administer the questionnaire? This depends on the format you will use. How will participants get the link to the online tool; when and how will participants get the paper questionnaires and how will you collect them; until when should questionnaires be answered; when and where will you try to meet people to ask them the questions?
  • Do you want participants to fill in the questionnaire once or several times? The more often you want participants to fill out the same questionnaire, the shorter the questionnaire should be. For example, if you want participants to fill out the questionnaire twice a week, it should only take one or two minutes to fill out. This technique is also called “experience sampling”. (because you sample people’s everyday experience over a period of time)
  • Prepare the actual questionnaire questions. 
    • Ask only questions that are relevant for answering your research question(s). Otherwise, questionnaires can get too long and take too much time.
    • Include information at the beginning that informs participants about the purpose of the questionnaire and that responses will be anonymous, and asks for their consent for the use of their anonymous responses for your research project.
    • If it is important for your research question(s), include questions on demographics, i.e. questions that tell you something about who the respondent is (without recording their name), such as whether they are a student, teacher, or parent; their age or grade level. If you need to track individuals over time, then ask them to create an anonymous identifier for themselves made up of letters and numbers, which they will enter every time they answer the questionnaire.   
    • Open-ended questions: they allow participants to write down their thoughts in a textbox. They take longer to answer and they take longer to analyze, but they can give important insights.
    • Closed questions: participants choose from a number of answer options- They can be quick to answer and they can be analyzed using quantitative methods. Examples include:
      • yes/no answers
      • Multiple choice questions
      • Likert scale ratings, such as rating the degree to which participants agree or disagree with a statement
    • Make sure questions are clear and specific. Avoid “leading questions”, these are questions that give the participants a hint of what your own opinions are or what you want them to answer.
  • Pilot the questionnaire with a few people that are representative of the participants and make adjustments to the questionnaire questions or change the format if necessary. The questions should be easy to understand and the questionnaire should not take too long to fill out, e.g. not more than 10-30 min if it is an online tool or pen-and-paper questionnaire, or no more than 10 min if you meet and ask people directly.

Things to pay attention to when administering a questionnaire

  • Does the link to the online questionnaire work, do all participants have access to the tool, or are there technical difficulties? 
  • If necessary and appropriate, send a reminder or encouragement to your participants to motivate them all to fill out your questionnaire. 
  • Did we approach all participants to collect their filled in pen-and-paper questionnaires?
  • How are people responding if we approach them directly to answer our questionnaire questions? Do we reach enough people or do we need to change our methods; e.g. should we change the time and place where we try to approach people? 

Things to reflect on after administering a questionnaire

  • What went well, not so well?
  • Was the format (online tools, pen-and-paper, meeting people directly) appropriate for the context and the participant group?
  • How many participants actually filled out the questionnaire? Did we reach the number of participants that we aimed for? If not, what might be some reasons, and how can we reach more people?

Analyzing questionnaire data

  • Questionnaires usually contain quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data is analyzed using quantitative data analysis methods, usually with the help of spreadsheet programs. Qualitative data is analyzed using qualitative data analysis methods.
  • If you used pen-and-paper format, then all responses need to be entered digitally into a spreadsheet for further analysis. If you used online tools, then the data can usually be downloaded into a spreadsheet format.
  • Are there responses that are incomplete or that might be invalid? For example, does it look like someone did not respond honestly? Exclude those data from your analysis.

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