Market Research Questionnaire design

The questionnaire is one of the most important links in the chain of information that starts with the interviewee (the respondent) and ends with the reader of the Marketing Research Report.

The market research questionnaire is, in fact, the instrument on which marketing information is recorded in a standardised way.  The market research questionnaire must be concise and unambiguous.  Unfortunately, standing in the way of this ideal are many pitfalls that lead the would-be market researcher into a maze of fuzzy answers which do not meet the survey objectives.

The possibility for interviewing error is always present and the best that the market researcher can hope to achieve is to minimise the potential for error by having a well designed market research questionnaire.

The market research questionnaire must be compiled from the following elements in order to have any chance of success:

  • It must be as short as possible without, however, compromising the survey.  The inevitable temptation is to add as many questions as possible in order to take full advantage of the interviewing opportunity.  Questionnaire length is usually measured in the time it takes for the average interview to be completed.
  • Clarity is vital.  The questions must be unambiguous – a simple question such as:


Q. “why did you fly to Rome on SAA?”

                        A. “because going by ship would take too long.”

                        A. “because I had to go to Rome on business.”

                        A. “because I prefer to support our domestic Airline.”

  • The first two respondents misunderstood the question and the third guessed it right.
  • Far better to ask – “When you flew to Rome – why did you use SAA?”
  • Do not start the an interview with:


Q. “What was your turnover broken down by product group over the past 5-years?”

The market research interviewer might find that his interview has become to a sudden end without having progressed past the first question.

  • Which brings me to the danger of the devious response or outright refusal usually communicated to the interviewer in some dramatic way


The respondent may:

  • Wish to answer but does not have the information readily available,.
  • Wish to answer but unable to do so because his information system does not extract figures in a way useful to the researcher.
  • Be reluctant to give an answer because it is confidential.
  • Misunderstand the parameters the researcher has set for the question.


Continuity of questions is important in order to allow the respondent to develop his thinking in a logical and progressive way.  Questions should not “jump around”, forcing the respondent into mental gymnastics which makes him lose patience and increases the possibility of error.

One question at a time should be asked and an answer obtained before progressing to the next one:

            Q. “At which store do you mainly do your shopping and why?”  This is two questions.

                        A good tip is never to have the word “and” in a questionnaire.

            Q. “Did you like or dislike the advertisement?”

            A. “Yes”

Leaving the market researcher to wonder whether “yes” he liked or “yes” he disliked the advertisement.  The question must be asked in two steps.

Ensure that the respondent answers the question asked and does not give an answer to a question that has not been asked.  Respondents can be terribly obtuse.

            Q. “what product improvements, if any, would you like offered you?”

            A. “A better price”

A “better price” is not a product improvement – neither is it a service improvement.

Try and make the interview interesting for the respondent.  A boring questionnaire will produce dull answers.

Questions must be totally unbiased.  The composition of some questions may suggest a response such as to the question:

            Q. “Are you a heavy drinker?”


            Q. “Would you agree that SQUIRT industrial cleaning equipment – cleans better?”.

Most respondents would answer with a “yes”.

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