Before commencing, try to give simple answers to these four questions:

  •  What are questionnaires?
  •  Why do we use questionnaires?
  •  When do we use questionnaires?
  •  Where do we use questionnaires?



We will try to answer the four questions about questionnaires on this webpage.

Questionnaires may appear an easy option for a researcher, but they are actually very difficult to do correctly.



To give you an idea of what questionnaires can do and cannot do, and also the difficulties encountered with questionnaires, you are going to attempt to produce a short questionnaire.

Try to devise a questionnaire on breakfast habits, including not only what, but also when, why, where, and how much. 

This has given you clues as to what should be included, but you have to actually write the questionnaire.

Now ask someone - a member of the family, a friend (you can ask more than one person) - to fill in the questionnaire.

Have they answered in  such a way that you have a clear idea of their breakfast habits?

If not, how can you rephrase the questions so that they can answer the purpose of the questionnaire?


Questionnaires can be useful for collecting data on simple and well-defined issues.

Their design should be carefully planned and piloted to ensure that they provide:


Questionnaires should really be developed from pilot studies.


Personal example:

A questionnaire that I devised for one particular piece of research into children with SCID and their families was developed from semi-structured interviews undertaken with the parents of the children who formed the pilot study.

The subsequent draft questionnaire was then piloted and a final version developed.


There are two types of questions that you can include in a questionnaire, depending particularly upon whether it is going to be a quantitative or a qualitative questionnaire.

These are:

Often, we are warned against 'leading questions' in questionnaires - however, all questions are 'leading'.

Some questions, however, lead more than others; but they all lead towards an answer.

Constructing a reliable and valid questionnaire to collect high-quality data is a subtle and sophisticated art.

Poorly designed questionnaires collect poor quality data.

Lydeard (1991), cited in Huang and Mathers (2004), described a number of steps necessary in the process of developing a questionnaire for use as a research tool:

  •  Define the area of investigation.
  •  Formulate the questions.
  •  Choose the sample and maximise the response rate.
  •  Pilot and test for validity and reliability.
  •  Recognise sources of error.



Hagerty and Patusky (1995) described the process of developing a questionnaire in order to measure a 'sense of belonging'.

They used the following steps:

If you came across a detailed description of how a particular questionnaire was developed, such as the one above, you could have confidence in the rigour of the study.

In a study which has used this self-developed instrument for data collection, sufficient detail should be given to allow for an appraisal of how it was developed before application.

What is important is that you need to recognise at this stage that whether or not a questionnaire is an appropriate data collection method depends upon the research question that has been asked.

Indeed, you should always be asking whether the method of collecting data was the appropriate one whenever you come across a research paper or a paper describing evidence-based care.

From this, you also need to be asking whether the research methodology used by the researchers was the correct one for the research question that was being asked.

This is why it is important that the author of a research paper specifies what is the research question or hypothesis at the very beginning of the paper, in order for you to be able to decide whether or not they are using the correct research methodology and method of data collection.

As a footnote, if you should ever be involved in undertaking a research study yourself, then you must make sure that you know exactly what your research question is (or hypothesis if it is experimental quantitative research (and also that it is the correct question for what you want to achieve).



Hagerty B, Patusky K, (1995) Developing a measure of sense of belonging. Nursing Research 44: 1

Huang TV, Mathers N (2004) Evaluating quantitative research. In Crookes PA, Davies S (Eds.) Research Into Practice: Essential skills for reading and applying research in nursing and healthcare (2nd Ed.). Edinburgh, Baillière Tindall

Lydeard S. (1991) The questionnaire as a research tool. Family Practice 8(1): 84-91

quantitative data collection     collecting data