The question was raised about writing survey questions.
My short answer is Don Dillman’s book, Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method is your best source. It is available from the publisher John Wiley. Or from Amazon. Chapter 4 in the book, “The basics of crafting good questions”, helps to focus your thinking. Dillman (and his co-authors Jolene D. Smyth and Leah Melani Christian) make it clear that how the questions are constructed raise several methodological questions and not attending to those questions can affect on how the question performs.
One (among several) consideration that Dillman et al, suggest to be considered every time is:
- The order of the questions (Chapter 6 has a section on ordering questions).
I only touching briefly on the order of questions using Dillman et al’s guidelines. There are 22 guidelines in Chapter 6, “From Questions to a Questionnaire”; of those 22, five refer to ordering the questions. They are:
- ” Group related questions that cover similar topics, and begin with questions likely to be salient to nearly all respondents” (pg. 157). Doing this closely approximates a conversation, the goal in questionnaire development.
- “Choose the first question carefully” (pg. 158). The first question is the one which will “hook” respondents into answering the survey.
- “Place sensitive or potentially objectionable questions near the end of the questionnaire” (pg. 159). This placement increases the likelihood that respondents will be engaged in the questionnaire and will, therefore, answer sensitive questions.
- “Ask questions about events in the order the events occurred” (pg. 159). Ordering the questions most distant to most recent occurrence, least important to most important activity, presents a logical flow to the respondent.
- “Avoid unintended question order effects” (pg. 160). Keep in mind that questions do not stand alone, that respondents may use previous questions as a foundation for the following questions. This can create an answer bias.
When constructing surveys, remember to always have other people read your questions–especially people similar to and different from your target audience.
More on survey question development later.