Constructing Questionnaire Items
Go to the Research
CONSTRUCTING QUESTIONNAIRE ITEMS
OPEN VERSUS CLOSED-ENDED
Open-ended questions allow the respondent to provide a richer assortment of information because
the resonses are not structured ahead of time by the researcher. At the same time, open-ended
questions may be harder to score and code.
Closed-ended questions provide response categories for the respondent to select from, such as
Agree, Disagree, and Undecided. There is little or no room for the
person to tailor responses.
Closed-ended items should have response categories that are exhaustive and mutually
WORDING OF QUESTIONS
- Items should be clear and unambiguous: The Census Bureau asked about people
working "full time," with 35 hours being the cutoff. People answering the question defined it as
40 hours, leading to some confusion about what the results actually meant.
- Questions should not be double-barreled, involving more than one question
a single questionnaire item.
- Avoid questions that include unwarranted assumptions.
- The respondent must be competent to respond. Sometimes specific knowledge or
perspective is necessary; an uninformed person may not provide meaningful responses.
- The question must be posed in a way that people will respond to honestly. Avoid
"spiral of silence:" People may not feel like responding truthfully if they think they are in the
minority on some opinion; they may respond that they are "undecided."
- Items should be kept short and simple. People are often not willing to spend time
effort trying to understand a question and all its implications.
- Items should not be worded negatively. "Communists should be prohibited from
teaching in our schools" is a troublesome question because it involves the word
prohibited, a word that people may ignore. Research has revealed that when people agree
with this item, in many cases, they are saying that they believe that such people ought to be able
- Biased and emotional terms are inappropriate. They lead people in particular
rather than assessing their actual attitudes.
Go to the Research
(Updated September 26, 2003)