A survey in many ways is similar to an interview: what is asked is just as important as how it’s asked. When you create a survey, the content of the question is partially defined by its corresponding tone and format.
Before drafting a questionnaire, ask yourself:
Should my survey have a structured, semi-structured, or free format?
1. Structured format
In this format, questions are very detailed and leave little room for interpretation. Those might involve checking the answer, filling the blank or option buttons. This format should be considered if you have a relatively good understanding of your investigated topic, meaning when you can easily assess whether your survey questions are relevant and accurate.
In structured surveys, answers are easy to evaluate and translate into quantitative data, making them more appropriate for conducting statistical analysis.
2. Unstructured format
Unstructured surveys are, as the name suggests, quite different to structured surveys. They are useful when you want to get a broad overview of a certain topic or leverage ideas or knowledge of your participants, for example, about their favourite product or for their suggestions for a new company name. Question formats in unstructured format tend to include simple text fields for participants to write their own, unfiltered answers.
Because the answers in unstructured formats are often more of a qualitative nature, they are less straightforward to analyze through statistical tools. Notwithstanding, an open survey format can be used to get an overview of a topic, for example as a preliminary study to prepare a final survey.
It must be said that many surveys rely on a middle ground, a so-called semi-structured format. Still, structured questions are more widely used, as they are more appropriate for statistical evaluations.
Consider which format will be the best fit for your questionnaire. If, for example, your survey is about a rather specific topic, avoid the text fields - it is safe to assume that participants won’t be able to give constructive feedback. Similarly, don’t use them for questions as simple as yes/no to make your life easier during the analysis stage. On the other hand, structured questions are of little use for in-depth interviews or feedback forms. The structured format won’t capture all the nuances that the unstructured format will.
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