To make data comparable

A questionnaire makes it possible to use tens of interviewers and hundreds of respondents, with the main variable being the variation in response. It is then possible to add up similar responses and say, '10 per cent say this'. This requires the questionnaire to be constructed in such a way that the words used have the same meaning for all respondents and all interviewers. To ensure that all interviewers do ask precisely the same question of all respondents it is usual to instruct them to read out the question from the questionnaire exactly as written. If a respondent has difficulty in answering, the interviewer is instructed simply to read out the question again and to add no words of clarification or explanation. Clearly, this procedure will only work if questions are well written and use everyday language. If it becomes necessary for the interviewer to assist the respondent in answering, then the questionnaire has failed and the comparability of data is lost. Variations due to different interviewer interpretations will have been introduced, but these will not be known by the data analyst and may result in misleading conclusions being drawn. Questionnaire piloting is an essential procedure in ensuring that the questions work.

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