Why don’t we celebrate good questionnaire design?

Sometimes I get positive feedback from clients (which is always appreciated!). I’ve been told that my presentation was great or that the survey data has been really useful but not one client has ever complemented me on the design of a questionnaire. If I type “examples of great questionnaires” into Google I get links to plenty of guides on how to write questions but I don’t get directed to any examples of great questionnaires that have any substance, examples that show complete questionnaires so you can appreciate the structure and the ebb and flow. To my knowledge there are no awards given for great questionnaire design and I can’t think of one person who has gone down in history as a great questionnaire designer.

So why don’t we celebrate good questionnaire design? Arguably, it’s the most important step in quantitative research. A bad questionnaire results in worthless data. Plenty of us, myself included, are more than happy to point out poor questionnaire design but I don’t think I've ever seen anything on social media or elsewhere offering congratulations on a well put together survey.

I've listed below a few reasons that have come into my head that might help to explain why good questionnaire design isn't celebrated:

  • There are no, or very few great questionnaires. Historically, little attention has been paid to the respondent experience. Questionnaires have been solely designed to be functional, to meet our data collection objectives, rather than crafted to be enjoyed by participants.
  • Questionnaire design is seen as a means to end. Just as few people know any detail about how the engines in their cars work, few are interested in the research process.
  • Questionnaire design isn’t generally seen as being particularly skilful. The rise of DIY research means that more and more people are having a go and getting data back. You don’t need to be good at it to get results (although you need to be good at it to get worthwhile results!).
  • Questions that are well designed are simple. They are easy to understand and answer. Simplicity is genius but achieving this simplicity makes questionnaire design look easy. Like football referees questionnaire designers are doing a good job if they go unnoticed.
  • Market researchers are traditionally poor at promoting the value of their skill set. If we don’t shout about how good we are nobody else is going to do it for us.

Questionnaire design is getting more challenging. As response rates drop we’re under pressure to better engage respondents. The stakes are getting higher. Therefore, I think we should be doing all we can to encourage and celebrate good questionnaire design.

Personally, I am going to pledge to praise good questionnaire design when I see it and share wherever possible. Awards might also help to raise the profile of questionnaire design. Some of the online panels ask respondents for feedback on questionnaires. Perhaps surveys with the best feedback could be presented with awards and publicised?

I’d love to know what others think about this issue. Do my theories hold water? Is this is a real issue or am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? In what other ways could the profile of questionnaire design be raised so that it is better appreciated?

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