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In all walks of life, the only method that tells us whether we as individuals or institutions meet certain expected standards is through feedback either verbally or in a written form.

One feedback method is to get data by using a questionnaire. The questionnaire was invented in the 19th century by an eminent Englishman Sir Francis Galton.

Questionnaires are questions to individuals or organizations to collect pre-determined data to be used for a specific purpose. The purpose is to then analyze that data and, where necessary, act upon the results of the analysis. It is no doubt a useful tool to help improve a service or a product.

The paragraphs that follow give you an understanding of questionnaires and some basic guidelines to formulate such a document.

Who Uses Questionnaires?

A questionnaire is widely used by governmental departments and both large and small businesses. However, there is no reason why a self-employed person should use a questionnaire as a useful tool for their business.

Types of Questionnaires

There are three basic formats for a questionnaire:

  • Those that require an answer that has various pre-determined optional answers (multiple choice).
  • Those that require written answers to a question.
  • Those that have multiple choice questions with an additional written option for each/some questions that may or may not be mandatory.

Multiple choice is a ‘tick the box’ type answer. They can require one answer, or more often than not, there are several answers required that cover different aspects related to the initial question.

Questionnaire Format and Purpose


The most important element to the format of a questionnaire is to define its purpose. Is it purely for statistical purposes, or is it to be used for statistical data and to get a more detailed in-sight into the subject? Once a purpose is established, one of the three basic questionnaire formats becomes naturally apparent.

Many questionnaires take the form of both written type and multiple choice. For questionnaires normally associated with statistics (e.g. face to face street surveys/opinion polls) the multiple choice option is used because it is simple to execute and analyze the results.

Once purpose/format is established it is necessary to clarify the following:

  • The target audience.
  • What type of feedback is required?
  • To what level of detail is the feedback questions to be formulated?
  • How will data be analyzed?

Question and Answer Technique

The question technique is paramount in achieving the defined purpose of the questionnaire, and this is the difficult part. For accurate feedback, the questions must be appropriate and unambiguously phrased. This will illicit the data that is essential to the purpose of the questionnaire.

For questions where more than a simple one-word answer is wanted, phrase the question so as the only way to answer is by using a sentence or more. A simple example of a badly worded question expecting a lengthy response is “John, can you give this meeting an evaluation of your data?” John answers “Yes” – question answered!!! Now another question/statement is necessary.

Question Compilation and Examples

Questions can be formulated using sub-topics that emulate from the main topic of the questionnaire. Such sub-topics questions can include certain personal details such as gender, education, age group etc. followed by more specific detailed questions. Questions should always related to one topic; avoid questions that contain more than one topic e.g. Do you like jam or marmalade for breakfast?

Those questions that require a written answer must be constructed so that they are clear, extract information relevant to the question and where necessary give an in-sight into the personality of the responder through the written word. These types of questions are often used for pre-interview selection or post-course/experience feedback.

Typical examples on a multiple-choice questionnaire could be as follows:

Q: At what frequency are progress reports required?
A: Monthly, Weekly, Daily, None
Q: What Quality Assurance standard do you apply to your business?
A: ISO9000, Internal, None

Typical example question format for a written answer questionnaire could be as follows:

  • Briefly describe your procedures to track a project’s progress.
  • How do you motivate other people?
  • What is the Mission Statement for your company?


There are definite limitations to questionnaires, especially for those not conducted in a face to face environment. These limitations include such things as low return rates or not knowing if the respondent understood the questions.


The advantages of a well-thought-out questionnaire will outweigh the limitations. It will provide feedback of what is ‘Good’ and ‘Not Good’ about a service or product. No matter how small or large a business you are, a questionnaire is a valuable tool to add to the inventory – just follow these simple steps:

  • Clearly define the purpose/format.
  • Have unambiguous relevant questions.
  • Analyze the results.
  • Act upon the analysis.
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Posted by Igor Ovsyannykov

I'm a digital nomad and entrepreneur bouncing around South East Asia. When I'm not working here, I'm out taking photos. Follow me on Instagram: @igorovsyannykov

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