Designing effective questionnaires

Designing an effective questionnaire is a process that requires attention to detail and consideration for your audience. It is important to design questions with the intention to help you gather the data you need.

Think about the languages your recipients speak

Large organizations may need to send questionnaires to a diverse set of recipients. Some recipients may not speak the same language your organization does, or may not speak that language fluently. Consider what languages your recipients are likely to speak. If necessary, maintain copies of your questionnaire in different languages so you can easily reach the right audience.

Decide which questions you need answered

Decide on what you need to learn and how you will use the information.

Having a clear objective in mind will help you to brainstorm more effective questions, as well as the order that you ask the questions. If you have multiple objectives, you may want to consider which of your goals are most important to focus the types of questions you ask.

Knowing what questions you want answered will help you in designing the questions you want to ask.

Plan questions that help gather information

Use mind-mapping or your chosen method of brainstorming techniques to plan questions. You can begin by defining a broad range of topics, and eventually narrowing down your focus to more specific questions.

Where possible, keep questions and responses short and simple. Depending on your goal, you may want to include open-ended questions, choice questions, or a combination of both in the questionnaire.

  • Open-ended questions provide the opportunity to gather feedback on specific experiences or expectations, and do not have a predefined range of options to choose from.

    Example open-ended questions

    • Describe any potential loss of confidential information.
    • Provide details which would explain the disposition of the boycott request.
    • What is the purpose of the gift? 
    • Please specify.
    • Describe some of the audits you have worked on.
  • Choice questions provide a predefined range of options respondents can choose from.

    Example choice questions

    • How often do you use this service?
    • What health services have you used? 
    • What areas do you see as high risk?
    • Did your company or division receive any requests to participate or cooperate with an international boycott this year? 
    • Is the gift to a public official? (Elected official or employee of municipal entity such as a university)

When to use open-ended vs. choice questions

  • If you need to easily compare information, use a choice question. For example, if the answer to the question is "Yes" or "No," using a choice question is the best option.
  • Dropdown response types are useful for longer responses and long lists of items (i.e. a list of states, provinces, or fixed departments that are well-known).
  • Single-choice response types are useful for shorter responses and fewer options. It is best practice to have 8 options or less for these questions.

Avoid biased questions

Try to avoid asking questions that indicate you are looking for a certain response. Good practice is to create possible responses or alter the wording of the question to avoid leading your respondents in a particular direction.

Consider asking the same question in different ways, and keep questions simple to increase clarity, and avoid any possible confusion that may skew your data.

Consider the order of your questions

Aim to order questions so that they follow each other in a logical and sequential order, and use page breaks to define shifts between sections.

You can move from a simple to complex approach in asking your questions, with shorter responses required at the beginning of the questionnaire, and lengthier, and more complex responses required at the end of the questionnaire.

Number of questions

While there is no limit on the number of questions you can include in a questionnaire, there are recommended ranges of questions depending on the type of questionnaire you are sending.

Pre-audit questionnaires, and whistleblower and incident report hotlines may include more questions, within the range of 15-25. Customer satisfaction surveys, SOX or disclosure certifications, and policy attestations may include fewer questions, within the range of 5-10.

Layout tips

Keep questionnaires short and simple.

In the instructions, communicate how long the questionnaire is going to be (to avoid respondents from dropping out). Use plain language both in the instructions and questions, and have a maximum of 5 questions per page.

Test the questionnaire and gather feedback

Before sending the questionnaire to the intended recipients, it is good practice to test the questionnaire. You can send the questionnaire to yourself to test the overall structure, format, and design. You can also send the questionnaire to others to gather feedback on the types of questions included in the questionnaire.

Incorporate feedback and revise the questionnaire

Revise the questions based on the feedback you receive from others. As you revise, ask yourself the following:

  • Are the questions targeted and specific?
  • Are there any sections that are confusing or out of place? 
  • Can you collect the data you need based on the questions you have defined? 

If the questionnaire is part of a larger initiative, you can also think about ways to alter the questionnaire and reuse it multiple times to target different audiences.