Conversation

How to Write Questions

When designing questions for a survey, focus group or interview it is useful to look at examples that have been used elsewhere, such as existing questionnaires or similar evaluations. See, for instance, the Department for Transport's THINK! campaign monitoring survey ( DFT annual survey). Also, the ADEPT Guidance for practitioners (March 2011) includes advice on how to use the Driver Attitude and Driver Behaviour Questionnaires: Guidance for Practitioners on Evaluating Route Safety Interventions.

It's really important that questions are worded correctly. If they are not it could lead to biased results, confused respondents and a meaningless set of data. It takes time and effort to get the questions right. They should go through two or three drafts before being finalised.

The following question writing rules are a useful guide. They apply equally to writing questions for a questionnaire or a focus group/interview topic guide. The type of question asked, however, will differ dependent on the method used.

As much as possible questionnaires should use closed, tick box style questions and focus groups or interviews should use open ended questions. If you would like to add some open questions to a questionnaire then try to put them at the end.

Question Writing Rules

  • Keep questions short
  • Avoid asking two questions in one e.g. "How enjoyable and informative did you find this workshop?" 'Enjoyable' and 'Informative' are two separate things.
  • Make questions unambiguous – make sure everyone will understand the question in the same way. E.g. the word crash might include bumps in the car park to some people and not others.
  • Avoid jargon and abbreviations – e.g. Syndicate or ADI (Approved Driving Instructor)
  • Avoid leading questions – e.g. "how enjoyable did you find the training?" Instead use "please rate how enjoyable or unenjoyable the training was".
  • Avoid using two negatives in one question e.g. How much do you agree with ‘I would never not wear a seatbelt'?
  • Avoid surplus questions – are you tacking-on a question just because you can? Is the question different to the other questions you are asking? You'll be restricted by time too (questionnaires should take around 10-20 minutes to complete, interviews and focus groups should be 30 minutes-1 hour 30 minutes long).
  • Pre-test questions – Select a small number of those you are going to ask the questions to and get them to answer the questions. If possible, also have a colleague review your questions against this checklist.
  • Be specific about what you are asking:

Correct

'Please rate the following aspects of this course on a scale of 1-5 with 1 meaning Poor and 5 meaning Excellent' (Opportunity to ask questions, Knowledge of presenters, Use of Examples...)

Incorrect

'Please rate this course on a scale of 1-5, with 1 meaning Poor and 5 meaning Excellent'

This Young drivers at work: focus group topic guide (a question schedule for the person conducting the focus group) provides an example of using open-ended questions.

Helpful links

If you would like more guidance on writing questions, you can visit our question bank where you can find examples of existing questions that you can tailor to use in your own evaluation project.

The links below provide more sources of example survey questions and tips in survey and questionnaire design, including dos and don'ts: