Surveys and Questionnaires in Research Excerpted from Survival Statistics

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What brand of computer do you own? __


B. Apple
Clearly, there are many problems with this question. What if the respondent doesn't own a microcomputer? What if he owns a different brand of computer? What if he owns both an IBM PC and an Apple? There are two ways to correct this kind of problem.
The first way is to make each response a separate dichotomous item on the questionnaire. For example:
Do you own an IBM PC? (circle: Yes or No)
Do you own an Apple computer? (circle: Yes or No)
Another way to correct the problem is to add the necessary response categories and allow multiple responses. This is the preferable method because it provides more information than the previous method.
What brand of computer do you own?

(Check all that apply)

__ Do not own a computer


__ Apple

__ Other
4. Has mutually exclusive options. A good question leaves no ambiguity in the mind of the respondent. There should be only one correct or appropriate choice for the respondent to make. An obvious example is:
Where did you grow up? __

A. country

B. farm

C. city
A person who grew up on a farm in the country would not know whether to select choice A or B. This question would not provide meaningful information. Worse than that, it could frustrate the respondent and the questionnaire might find its way to the trash.
5. Produces variability of responses. When a question produces no variability in responses, we are left with considerable uncertainty about why we asked the question and what we learned from the information. If a question does not produce variability in responses, it will not be possible to perform any statistical analyses on the item. For example:

What do you think about this report? __

A. It's the worst report I've read

B. It's somewhere between the worst and best

C. It's the best report I've read
Since almost all responses would be choice B, very little information is learned. Design your questions so they are sensitive to differences between respondents. As another example:
Are you against drug abuse? (circle: Yes or No)
Again, there would be very little variability in responses and we'd be left wondering why we asked the question in the first place.
6. Follows comfortably from the previous question. Writing a questionnaire is similar to writing anything else. Transitions between questions should be smooth. Grouping questions that are similar will make the questionnaire easier to complete, and the respondent will feel more comfortable. Questionnaires that jump from one unrelated topic to another feel disjointed and are not likely to produce high response rates.
7. Does not presuppose a certain state of affairs. Among the most subtle mistakes in questionnaire design are questions that make an unwarranted assumption. An example of this type of mistake is:
Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance? (Yes or No)
This question will present a problem for someone who does not currently have auto insurance. Write your questions so they apply to everyone. This often means simply adding an additional response category.
Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance?

___ Yes

___ No

___ Don't have auto insurance

One of the most common mistaken assumptions is that the respondent knows the correct answer to the question. Industry surveys often contain very specific questions that the respondent may not know the answer to. For example:
What percent of your budget do you spend on

direct mail advertising? ____
Very few people would know the answer to this question without looking it up, and very few respondents will take the time and effort to look it up. If you ask a question similar to this, it is important to understand that the responses are rough estimates and there is a strong likelihood of error.
It is important to look at each question and decide if all respondents will be able to answer it. Be careful not to assume anything. For example, the following question assumes the respondent knows what Proposition 13 is about.

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