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6 common questionnaire errors (12 Jul 19)

If your questionnaire is poorly designed, you get meaningless data, poor response rates and may frustrate, even enrage some residents and service users

Here are 6 of the most common errors made in housing and regeneration surveys. You can avoid them all by following some simple rules - and by always piloting your questionnaire.

By piloting your questionnaire you can unearth and solve problems with questions, routing and layout, and the time needed to complete it before you send it out. Afterwards will be too late!

Always pilot with members of the population you plan to survey - not friends or colleagues. About 5-15 questionnaires should be completed, after which you can amend if necessary.

1. Hypothetical questions

These are among the most underrated and difficult types to get right. They are increasingly important in housing and regeneration research because of the need to involve residents in community projects and estate improvements.

Answers to hypothetical questions cannot be as reliable as those about matters of fact or experience, and can be very misleading.

Residents have to be clear on what the questions are all about. You must make sure they relate to and fully understand the context – perhaps by distributing information and consulting people in advance.

Do not try to give all the information at the interview or with the self completion questionnaire.

2. Leading questions

Probably the commonest mistake made in questionnaires.

These are questions in which the wording encourages people to answer in a particular way e.g. “Do you agree that the crime on this estate has got worse in the last 5 years?” or “What problems have you had with this property since you moved in?” Always make sure that the question is posed in a balanced way eg:

“Would you say that over the last 5 years the level
of crime on this estate has:

Got a lot worse

Got a bit worse

Stayed about the same

Got a bit better

Got a lot better

Don’t know”

A further example is when a scale like the one above is constructed with more positive than negative responses in the list, or where a mid-point is missing eg if the responses “got a lot worse” or “stayed about the same” were omitted.

3. Questions which assume something about the respondent

A good example is asking “Are you interested in buying your home under a shared ownership scheme?” before finding out if the respondent has heard of shared ownership.

4. Questions which put too many demands on memory

This is particularly important when surveying older people, or when the subject is not of great importance to the respondent. You should always try to avoid asking details of events which happened a long time ago.

5. Long or complex questions

Newcomers to questionnaire design often fall into the trap of asking more than one question at a time. E.g. “Do you think your landlord provides good services to tenants, and is easy to approach?" or "Are staff at the office polite and helpful?”

6. Questions which use difficult or technical language

Always use simple language which everyone in the survey can understand, and avoid using legal or housing management jargon without explanation e.g. “Can you tell me whether you have an assured or secure tenancy?”

This is particularly important in self completion surveys, especially postal, because some tenants may have difficulty in reading English.

Why not run an in house course on this topic? Email me at rod@rodlaird.co.uk


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