What is a Questionnaire: Examples, Characteristics, Types and Design

What is a Questionnaire?

A questionnaire is defined as a research instrument that consists a set of questions or other types of prompts that aims to collect information from a respondent. These typically are a mix of close-ended questions and open-ended questions; long form questions offer the ability for the respondent to elaborate on their thoughts. Questionnaires were developed in 1838 by the Statistical Society of London.

A questionnaire is a set of questions typically used for research purposes which can be both qualitative as well as quantitative in nature. A questionnaire may or may not be delivered in the form of a survey, but a survey always consists of questionnaire.

Questionnaire Examples

Some examples of a questionnaire are:

  1. Customer Satisfaction Questionnaire: The customer satisfaction questionnaire can be used in any form and in any situation where there is an interaction between a customer and an organization.


  2. Product Use Satisfaction Questionnaire: This questionnaire is used to understand product usage trends and collecting customer preference about products.


  3. Company Communications Evaluation Questionnaire: This questionnaire is used to evaluate internal and external communication and to check if the policies of the organization are being enforced across the board.


The above questionnaire examples help prove that they are typically cheaper to execute than surveys and often have standardized answers that are used to compile data. They are limited by the fact though that the respondents must be able to read all the questions and respond to them.

Learn More: 300+ Free Questionnaire Examples and Templates

Characteristics of a Questionnaire

The questionnaire design depends on the type of information that is required to be collected. Qualitative questionnaires are used when there is a need to collect exploratory information or proving or disproving a hypothesis. Quantitative questionnaires are used when to validate or test any previously generated hypothesis. Some basic characteristics of a questionnaire are:

  • Uniformity: Questionnaires are very useful to collect demographic information, personal opinions, facts or attitudes from respondents. One of the biggest characteristic of questionnaires is that it is standardized and uniform. Every respondent see’s the same questions. This helps in data collection and statistical analysis of this data. For example, a retail store evaluation questionnaire template contains questions for evaluating retail store purchase value, range of options for product selections, quality of merchandise and more. These questions are uniform for all customers.
  • Exploratory: To collect qualitative data, the questionnaire could be exploratory in nature. There is no restriction of the questions that can be in this questionnaire or the specific objective that this collected. For example, if a questionnaire is administered to the female of the household to understand the spend towards household incomes, a very structured question list could limit the data collection.
  • Question Sequence: The questionnaire typically follows a structured flow of questions to increase the number of responses. This sequence of questions are screening questions, warm-up questions, transition questions, skip questions, difficult questions and classification questions. For example, a motivation and buying experience questionnaire template covers initial demographic questions all the way through to time taken in a section and rationale behind purchase decisions etc.  

Types of Questionnaires

As learnt above, questionnaires can be either structured or free-flow. To explain this a little better:

  • Structured Questionnaires: Structured questionnaires collect quantitative data. The questionnaire is planned and designed to collect very specific information. It also initiates a formal enquiry, supplements data and checks previously accumulated data and helps validate any prior hypothesis.
  • Unstructured Questionnaires: Unstructured questionnaires collect qualitative data. The questionnaire in this case has a basic structure and some branching questions but nothing that limits the responses of a respondent. The questions are more open-ended.

Types of Questions in a Questionnaire

There could be multiple question types in a questionnaire. Some of the widely used types of questions are:

  • Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions help collect qualitative data in a questionnaire where the respondent can answer in a free form with little to no restrictions.
  • Dichotomous Questions: The dichotomous question is generally a “yes/no” close-ended question. This question is generally used in case of the need of basic validation. It is the easiest form of a questionnaire.
  • Multiple-Choice Questions: Multiple-choice questions are a close-ended question type in which a respondent has to select one (single select multiple choice question) or many (multiselect multiple choice question) responses from a given list of options. The multiple choice question is consisted of an incomplete stem (question), right answer or answers, incorrect answers, close alternatives and distractors. Not all questions would have all of the above and these guidelines can be used as deemed fit or that best matches the expected outcome of the question.
  • Scaling Questions: Another question type that is widely used in a questionnaire are scaling questions. These questions are based on the principles of the 4 measurement scales – nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio. Some question types that utilize the fundamental properties of these scales are rank order questions, Likert scale questions, semantic differential scale questions and stapel scale questions.
  • Pictorial Questions: This question type is the 2nd easiest type of a questionnaire question. Respondents are given the option from certain images limiting their response to the options in the question but increasing the number of responses.

Types of Questionnaires based on Distribution

Types of Questionnaires Based on Distribution

Questionnaires can be administered or distributed in the following forms:

  • Computer Questionnaire: In this type, respondents are sent the questionnaire via email or other online mediums and the respondent is required to complete this questionnaire. The advantages of this method is that is cost-effective and time efficient. Respondents can also answer at leisure and since they are not pressured, responses could be even more accurate. The disadvantage, however is that respondents can easily ignore these questionnaires.
  • Telephone Questionnaire: In this questionnaire type, a researcher makes a phone call to a respondent to collect responses. The advantages of this method is that responses are quick once the respondent is on call and willing to speak. But the disadvantage is that a lot of times the respondents are hesitant to give out much information over the phone. It is also an expensive way of conducting a questionnaire. The sample also may not be a representative of the whole population.
  • In-House Questionnaire: This type of questionnaire is conducted by a researcher that visits the home or workplace of the respondent. The advantage of this type of questionnaire is that the respondent is in a comfortable and natural environment and in-depth data can be collected. The disadvantage though is that it is expensive
  • Mail Questionnaire: Mail questionnaires are now turning obsolete but are still being used in some market research studies. This method involves a researcher sending a physical questionnaire request to a respondent that can be filled in and sent back. The advantage of this methods is that respondents can complete this at leisure and hence answer truthfully and entirely. The disadvantage though is that this method is expensive and time consuming. There is also a high risk of the not being able to collect enough number of responses.

Questionnaire Design

Questionnaire Design

Questionnaire design is a multistep process that requires attention to details at every step. Designing in itself is a complicated process, designing a questionnaire is equally complicated because a survey might be based on varied topics (not all at once!) with varied details.

Researchers are always hoping that the response they get, yields a good data. At the end of the day it all boils down to, how good or bad is the data that one receives through these surveys. If it is too complicated, there is a fair chance that the respondent might get confused and is unable to respond aptly.

A survey creator may administer a pre-testing of the same to a focus group during the development process to get a better understanding of how the respondent in that focus group responds. Pre-testing is a good practice as the survey creator can comprehend in the initial stages if there are any changes required in the survey.

Steps Involved in Questionnaire Design

1. Identify what you want to cover in a questionnaire: Even before you think how your questionnaire will look, think what your questionnaire is going to include. Clarity of topic is of utmost importance as this is the primary step in designing the questionnaire. Once you are clear on what the questionnaire is going to be about the rest of the steps simply follow.

2. Don’t mince your words: It’s essential that the words or phrases that you use while writing the questionnaire are easy to understand because there are chances that not all respondents will understand the meaning behind it. If the questions are unclear the respondents they may simply choose any options, leading to inaccurate data at your end.

3. Ask only one question at a time: At times a researcher may be tempted to add two similar questions as one. However, this is also something that should be avoided as each question might have a different outcome. It may seem like common sense, but it’s an easy trap to fall into when compiling questions. If any of your questions contain the word “and”, take another look at it. This question likely has two parts, which can tamper your data quality.

4. Be flexible with your options: While designing, the survey creator needs to be flexible in terms of “option choice” for the respondents. Sometimes the respondents may not necessarily want to choose from the answer options provided by the survey creator, in such a situation it helps to have “other” option.

5. Open-ended or closed-ended question, it’s a tough choice: The survey creator might end up in a situation where he/she would need to make distinct choices between open or close-ended questions. Again the question type should be carefully sorted as it defines the tone and importance of asking the question in the first place.

If the questionnaire requires the respondents not to restrict their thoughts, open-ended questionis the best choice. But, if the surveyor wants a specific response then close-ended questions should be their primary choice. The key to asking closed-ended questions is to generate data that is easy to analyze and spot trends; not to mention, closed-ended questions are easier for the survey taker..

6.It is important to know your audience: As a thumb rule, a researcher should know their target audience. For example, if the target audience is Spanish, sending the questionnaire in any other language will not yield desired responses. Something that may seem clear to you may be confusing to your respondents. Use simple language and terminology that your respondents will understand, and avoid technical jargon and industry-specific language that might confuse or frustrate your respondents.

To carry out market research, researchers need a representative sample that can be collected using one of the many sampling techniques. It is very important to plan and define these target respondents on the basis of the demographics required. 

7. Choosing the right tool is important: QuestionPro is a simple yet advanced survey software platform that the surveyors can use to create a questionnaire or choose from the already existing 300+ questionnaire templates.

One last yet an important note before we conclude, save personal questions for last! Sensitive questions may cause respondents to drop off before completing. If these questions are at the end, the respondent has had time to become more comfortable with the interview and are more likely to answer personal or demographic questions.

Differences between a Questionnaire and a Survey

After reading this article, still don’t understand the difference between survey and a questionnaire? Read on to find out more:

Questionnaire vs Survey Difference


Questionnaire Survey
Meaning A questionnaire can be defined as a research instrument that consists a set of questions or other types of prompts that aims to collect information from a respondent. A Survey is defined is a research method used for collecting data from a pre-defined group of respondents to gain information and insights on various topics of interest.
What is it? Instrument of data collection Process of collecting and analyzing that data
Characteristic Subset of survey Consists of questionnaire and survey design, logic and data collection
Time and Cost Fast and cost effective Much slower and expensive
Use Conducted on the target audience Distributed or conducted on respondents
Questions Close-ended and very rarely open-ended Close-ended and open ended
Answers Objective Subjective or objective