The organization and presentation of questionnaires

Sequencing and steering

The organization of your questionnaire will greatly help you gain the information you want and will also help your respondent fill it in.

Sequencing and steering

Experienced researchers advocate writing out the individual questions on card indexes, on each of which should be:

  • a number indicating the place in the questionnaire sequence
  • the wording of the instructions
  • the wording of the question
  • the wording of any alternative answers
  • instructions for recording the data

The issue of the sequence of the questions is very important. Researchers tend to agree on a number of rough guidelines:

  • Start with an interesting question, but one that is non-threatening, and does not ask for tricky information.
  • Have screening questions early on in the sequence, after the introduction, so that you can ensure that your respondents are actually part of the sample, and can exclude any that are not. Equally important is the use of such questions to organize your sample into sub-ground. This will enable you to analyse your responses into categories.
In Libraries and desktop storage options: results of a Web-based survey' , the authors start their questionnaire with a number of questions concerning types of libraries, position etc. so that the survey could report on where people worked and what they did.
  • Once the introductory and screening questions have been got out of the way, the main body of the questionnaire can deal with the main data-yielding questions.
  • The sequence of the 'main body' questions is important: make sure that it is clear and logical, and that the placement of questions will not affect subsequent responses in that the respondent will be unduly influenced by a response to a previous question, as the context within which a question is placed can influence the response. Clear sequencing is particularly important if the respondents have little formal education.
  • Group similar questions together within sections, and go from the general to the more specific.
  • Questions which relate to the respondent, and, in the case of an organizational questionnaire, to the organization, are best left to the end as these are perceived to be sensitive.
In 'A longitudinal survey of robot usage in Australia' , the authors describe a survey which was conducted by interview and where the questions were grouped as follows:
  • Were the expectations of management being met by robot technology, given the potential benefit it has to offer industry?
  • What was the impact on the workforce of robot manufacturing technology?
  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the technology under local manufacturing conditions?
  • What are the likely future impacts of the technology on the Australian manufacturing industry?


Provide clear instructions for filling in the questionnaire, which should be clearly differentiated from the questions themselves.

The introduction to the questionnaire should state general background information, for example:

  • the purpose of the survey
  • who you are and the organization you represent
  • what you want the respondents to do

If you organize the questionnaire according to sections, each section should have a brief introduction stating its purpose.

If particular questions require specific instructions, e.g. choosing a particular response, give those instructions with that question or group of questions.

If some questions branch, i.e. 'if you ...., go to question 12', state these instructions clearly and in a user-friendly manner. Also, make it clear when some questions do not apply to all respondents.

With mail questionnaires, it is also usual to send out a covering letter which should state:

  • the purpose of the survey and who you are, and represent (if part of an organization)
  • how filling in the questionnaire will benefit the respondent
  • how filling in the questionnaire will benefit research
  • how in the case of questions which solicit opinion, there are no right or wrong answers
  • how and why the respondent was selected
  • how you will ensure the confidentiality of the respondent's material and their privacy
  • acknowledgement of the respondent's time - thank them for completing the questionnaire
  • what the deadline for return of the questionnaire is
  • what are the instructions for filling in the questionnaire

Finally, you should always supply a self-addressed envelope.


The following points are important:

  • It is very important that a questionnaire has a professional appearance, and that is it formatted in such a way as to make it easy to fill in.
  • Make sure that instructions are distinguished stylistically from the questions.
  • Include plenty of white space.
  • Make sure that there is enough space for the answers.
  • Make sure that branching instructions are clear: for example, 'If YES, go to question 10' etc.

Click here to see the Servqual questionnaire, as an example of a well-presented instrument with clear instructions.

Constructing the questions