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Writing Good Questions. A QUESTIONNAIRE IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE QUESTIONS IT ASKS. Plan What to Measure. What information is required? Who are appropriate target respondents? What data collection method will be used to survey respondents?. Preface: Open-ended versus Close-ended Questions.

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Writing Good Questions

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Writing good questions

Writing Good Questions

Dr. Michael R. Hyman, NMSU

A questionnaire is only as good as the questions it asks


Plan what to measure

Plan What to Measure

  • What information is required?

  • Who are appropriate target respondents?

  • What data collection method will be used to survey respondents?

Preface open ended versus close ended questions

Preface: Open-ended versus Close-ended Questions

Close ended questions

Communication skills of respondent less critical

Speedy response

Easier to answer

Data quickly coded & entered

Easier to analyze

Less-skilled or no interviewer needed

Can’t obtain in-depth response

Poor at providing new insights

Harder to write

Answer may not fully reflect respondent’s attitude

Categories hint at right answers

Close-ended Questions


Open ended questions

Wide range of responses

Encourages response

Good for probing

Biased by respondent articulateness

Interviewer bias

Hard to record answers

Coding inconsistency

Hard/costly to code

Reduced cross-study comparability

Tabulating complexity


Open-ended Questions


Guidelines for writing good questions

Guidelines for Writing Good Questions

Be clear and precise

Be Clear and Precise

Responses should be mutually exclusive and exhaustive

Responses Should Be Mutually Exclusive and Exhaustive

Use natural and familiar language

Use Natural and Familiar Language

Use natural and familiar language1

Use Natural and Familiar Language

  • Grinder

  • Hoagie

  • Hero

  • Submarine

  • Poor Boy

Avoid leading questions

Avoid Leading Questions

Avoid leading questions1

Avoid Leading Questions

Leading version:

1. Do you believe that private citizens have the right to own firearms to defend themselves, their families, and property from violent criminal attack?


Improved version:

2. Do you believe that a ban on the private ownership of firearms would be significantly reduce the number of murders and robberies in your community?


Avoid double barreled questions

Avoid Double-barreled Questions

Writing good questions

Avoid Double-barreled Questions

Writing good questions

Ask One Question at a Time

State alternatives explicitly

State Alternatives Explicitly

Questions should yield reliable and valid answers

Questions Should Yield Reliable and Valid Answers

  • Relevance

  • Memory

    • Omission

    • Telescoping

    • Creation

Writing good questions

Provide Appropriate Time Referents

Example of order bias

Example of Order Bias

Writing good questions

Sources of Order Effects in Self-administered Questionnaires

Other guidelines

Other Guidelines

Writing good questions

Procedures for Softening Impact of Potentially Objectionable Questions

Asking sensitive question

Asking Sensitive Question

  • Respondent randomly selects which of two questions—one innocuous and one sensitive—to answer

    Questions: Last digit of SS# odd?

    Sensitive question?


    If 300 ‘yes’ answers, then 50 of 500 (10%) answered ‘yes’ to sensitive question

Poor questions

Poor Questions

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