Organizational Development Consultant

Nineteen Techniques to Gather Information: #4 Questionnaires

June 2, 2014

“I know that a number of organizations and facilitators use Questionnaires to gather information. What can you tell me about this technique?”

#4: Questionnaires

What are Questionnaires?

Questionnaires gather written information from individuals that can be quantitative, qualitative, or a combination of both. It is a relatively inexpensive technique that allows you to gather information from large numbers of people in a short period of time.

This technique does, however, have limitations. Because it is one-way communication, sometimes the data collected can be difficult to interpret. Some people will give you less information in writing than in person and you can receive lower response rates. But if utilized under the proper circumstances, Questionnaires can be a valuable technique for gathering information.

In this blog, I will describe five techniques that are designed to gather information outside actual meetings. Questionnaires tend to be the least time consuming of these techniques. The more time consuming techniques, Individual Interviews and Focus Groups, have already been described, and the Delphi Technique and Expectations Survey follow.

When Do I Use Questionnaires?

  •  When you want to gather information from large groups of people
  • When gathering information in writing will meet the needs of your group
  • When you want to gather information from meeting participants before the meeting

How Do I Use Questionnaires?

1. Determine the purpose and scope of the Questionnaire you are developing by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your Questionnaire?
  • Who is the audience for your Questionnaire?
  • How will the information be used?
  • Who will use the results?
  • How will results be communicated?

2. Develop your Questionnaire, choosing whether to structure your questions as open-ended or close-ended. The following three samples show how to design the same basic question. The first two are close-ended examples and the last is open-ended. Note that questions can be expressed as both questions and statements.

(A) My manager listens to my ideas.

Strongly Agree  ( )
Agree  ( )
Neither agree or disagree  ( )
Disagree  ( )
Strongly Disagree  ( )

(B) How frequently does your manager listens to your ideas?

Always  ( )
Almost always  ( )
Sometimes  ( )
Rarely  ( )
Never  ( )

(C) Describe the way your manager listens to your ideas.

NOTE: Effective close-ended questions are very difficult to develop. Important responses can be easily omitted, and this can skew the validity of your Questionnaire.

Open-ended questions gather a much wider breadth of information than closed-ended questions, but are much more difficult to summarize and statistically analyze. Choose the method that will work best for your purposes. You might also consider using both open- and close-ended questions for different parts of your Questionnaire.

When developing your Questionnaire, consider following the following basic guidelines:

  • Be sure questions ask only one thing at a time
  • Use language that is easy to understand
  • Ask questions that are applicable to all who receive the Questionnaire, or note exceptions clearly
  • Avoid asking leading or loaded questions, and questions where only partial alternatives are provided
  • Start with the least difficult and less controversial questions
  • Cluster questions in relevant categories, unless you have a specific reason not to
  • Make the Questionnaire look approachable. Crowded pages with small print are intimidating and look like they will take too much time to complete
  • When you have the choice, shorter is better
  • With forced choice responses, be sure that there are the same number of positive and negative responses
  • Test your Questionnaire for clarity and accuracy with a small sample of participants before sending out to large groups of people. Consider using a Focus Group to help plan the Questionnaire
  • Include a cover letter clearly outlining the purpose of Questionnaire, who is receiving the Questionnaire, a deadline, and who to contact with problems or questions

3. Determine your logistics of your Questionnaire by answering the following questions.

  • Who will the Questionnaires be returned to?
  • When do they need to be returned?
  • How will the Questionnaires be distributed?
  • Who will write and who will sign the cover letter to accompany the Questionnaire?
  • What publicity, if any, is appropriate?
  • How will the responses be compiled and by whom?
  • How will the results be summarized and presented?
  • How, when and by whom will the results of the Questionnaire be communicated?

NOTE: Many online services, for example, Survey Monkey exist and provide excellent results. However, the quality of your Questionnaire and its summary will still require your attention. This cannot be fully outsourced.

OPTION: For large efforts, such as company wide surveys, or if you have little experience with Questionnaires, consider hiring a professional firm to help you.

4. Administer the Questionnaire.

5. Use the information as planned.

In Summary:

Questionnaires is a technique designed to gather information from individuals in writing. It is a relatively inexpensive technique that allows you to collect large amounts of information from large numbers of people in a relatively short period of time.

1. Determine the purpose and scope of the Questionnaire.
2. Develop your Questionnaire.
3. Determine the logistics of your Questionnaire.
4. Administer the Questionnaire.
5. Use the information as planned.

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