Question content

When looking at the content of questions, you should ask:

1 Is the question necessary? If the answer provided by a question does not contribute to satisfying the research objectives, the question itself should be omitted.

Question phrasing

FIGURE 7.1

Questionnaire design and construction

2 Does the respondent understand the question? The language of the question should be at the level of the respondent being interviewed.

3 Will the question suffice to elicit the required data? Questions may be badly phrased or too ambiguous to produce specific information, for example, 'When do you shop?' Asking the same question, but with the words in a different order, may also produce different answers. For example, asking whether it is right to 'drink and drive' may elicit a different answer to asking whether it is right to 'drive and drink'.

You should also avoid questions that pose more than one question, for example, 'When and where do you shop?'

4 Does the respondent have the necessary information to answer the question? The ability of a respondent to provide a meaningful answer will reflect:

• The extent to which the respondent is informed. Some respondents may not wish to disclose ignorance and may try to bluff their way through certain questions. In constructing and asking questions it is therefore important to ensure that there is no suggestion that the respondent should know the answer.

• How good the respondent's memory is. People forget and need something to jog their memories. It is better to ask people if they recognise something rather than to ask them to recall it.

• How articulate the respondent is. People vary considerably in this respect. Where open-ended questions are being asked it is inevitable that some people will be better than others at getting over the point they wish to make. Closed-ended questions, where an individual has to indicate an option from a prespecified list help to alleviate this particular problem.

5 Is the respondent willing or able to answer the questions? Non-response or distorted answers are sometimes made by respondents. Embarrassment or loss of face are strong motivators that influence how a person responds to questions. Ways of alleviating this problem include:

• removing or redrafting questions that are likely to create these kinds of problem

• reassuring respondents of the importance of the questions and the confidentiality of the data provided; anonymity of the responses can help.

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