It’s not easy to write a questionnaire and this is the proof

If you’re reading this post, chances are you know how to write. You’ve been writing your name since you were 4 years of age and you’ve been writing well composed sentences since you were about 10 years of age. Of course, many of us have regressed in this era of text messages (BTW, RU free l8tr 2nite? Y not C a film?) and emojis (😜 😈 😎 🤡) but that’s a topic for another day.

The question today is can you write a well composed question?

NextDoor is a social network that allows people living in the same neighbourhood to share information (e.g., I’m having a garage sale this Saturday, please come!) and ask questions (e.g., Does anyone know what time the restaurant on the corner opens?). It also allows people to ask poll questions (e.g., Do you want to hold a street garage sale?).

For those of us who ask questions for a living, whether that’s questionnaires, discussion boards, CATI interviews, or something similar, NextDoor is an excellent opportunity to witness how questions are written by people who haven’t undergone the same type of training we have. Let’s look at some of the problems people encounter when they try to write polls in NextDoor.

People don’t necessarily know how to phrase questions to fit into the single select question format. In this first example, the question should have been phrased as “Can you offer advice about contractors or neighbours sharing the cost?”


People also don’t know how to create single select questions that can accommodate multiple select answer options. In this case, within the limited confines of the tool, the answers could have been: Monday at 9:30, Monday at 11:30, Wednesday at 9:30, Wednesday at 11:30.


The next examples demonstrate that people have great difficulty using the interface. They’re unsure about the difference between a search box, a submit button, and the answer boxes. They don’t know how to change the default answer options. And, it seems that they are unable to see what their poll will look like before it gets launched.




And worst of all, people don’t recognize when questions can be misinterpreted. Are we to assume that some people look forward to children being endangered?


Aside from NextDoor needing some help to create a more intuitive user experience that will generate valid data, these example questions make one point very obvious. Writing well composed questions is not simple. “Anyone” can’t write them.

It takes years of training and experience to be able to identify and avoid phrasing and language that could create ambiguity. Indeed, even well trained researchers make mistakes. That’s why we always recommend pre-testing questionnaires with colleagues and clients prior to running a soft-launch.

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to make mistakes, let us know whether you agree or disagree that questions on market research questionnaires are easy to write. If you’ve got a Twitter account, you can answer all three polls and then come back later to see whether the slightly different wordings create different answers!

If you’ve got some questions that you aren’t sure how to phrase, please get in touch with us. We’d love to help you avoid ambiguity and confusion among your research participants.

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With nearly 40 years of experience, Canadian Viewpoint is a field and data collection company that specializes in English and French offline and online services. We offer sample, programming>, hosting, mall intercepts, pre-recruits, central location recruitment, mystery shopping, site interviews, IHUTs, sensory testing, discussion boards, CATI, facial coding, and other innovative technologies. Learn more about our services on our website. Canadian Viewpoint is a founding board member of CRIC (Canadian Research Insights Council) and named on both the 2019 GRIT Top 50 list of Emerging Players and Women in Research shortlist for Best Places to Work.

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Canadian Viewpoint is a one-stop market research data collection and fieldwork company. For over 40 years, we have been trusted by clients ranging from global Fortune 500 companies to local, boutique market, social, and academic research firms and offering top-quality solutions for offline, online, qualitative, and quantitative fieldwork. We specialize in providing high-quality solutions for offlineonline, qualitative, and quantitative fieldwork. As long-term members of the Insights Association, accredited members of the Canadian Research and Insights Council (CRIC), and corporate members of ESOMAR, we uphold the highest industry standards. Our diverse range of services includes sampleprogramming and hostingmall interceptscentral location recruitmentmystery shoppingin-home usage tests (HUTS)sensory testingshelf testingcomputer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI)Facial Coding, and other cutting-edge technologies. Explore our website to learn more about our offerings and access our demo site to experience our tools firsthand.

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