Will the questionnaire work

It is both easy and dangerous at the point of having designed a questionnaire to use it in the field quickly, 'before any more time is wasted'. The danger is that faults in the questionnaire will not be discovered, resulting in unreliable data. It is always worth piloting a questionnaire, even if only a handful of interviews is done. For important pieces of research it is advisable to ask for a pilot survey, even though this will add to the cost.

The process of piloting requires interviewers to conduct the interview in the normal way, and to note any difficulties that they encounter in introducing the questionnaire, asking or recording answers to the questions, following the instructions or coping with the layout. They are also asked to note any difficulties that the respondent has in interpreting or answering the questions. When the interview is complete the interviewer may explain that the questionnaire is actually being tested, and ask the respondent, 'What did you think that question meant?', 'What was in your mind when you answered this question?' or 'How did you arrive at your answer?' This last question is particularly important to test questions involving memory.

The feedback from this process readily indicates any ways in which the questionnaire does not work well, and interviewers can be asked what words they found it necessary to use to explain what was required of respondents. It is usually instructive for the manager to try a few interviews personally, if he or she really wants to learn about the research process. Hearing how a questionnaire works in the field can lend insight to the way in which the final results are used in decision making. The interviewers used for piloting should be average rather than good interviewers, so that difficulties they may have can be monitored. When the questionnaire is sent into the field the whole range of interviewer abilities will be working on the survey, and all must be able to use the questionnaire easily.

It is also useful to use the results from a pilot survey for a 'dummy run' of the analysis to check that it, too, will work out. Piloting will lead to revising, modifying and improving the questionnaire until the designer is satisfied that it is a good instrument for collecting the data required in as undistorted a manner as possible.

Team LiB

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