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"basically, just asking questions"

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What is it?

Questionnaires and surveys are surprisingly powerful yet simple data (requirements) capture tool, comprising a carefully chosen series or sequence of interlinked questions.


  • Multiple-choice answers
  • Numerical ranking
  • Usually paper-based or web-based
  • Used either in face-to-face or distal contexts

What's it for?

To discover what a participant thinks or believes about a particular topic or subject

  • Used to quickly poll opinion or get a "flavour" of a topic or subject
  • Can be used to gather both qualitative and quantitative data
  • Often used to identify issues or problems for later, more detailed analysis

How to create and use questionnaires
I have identfied the following six aspects of creating and using a questionnaire or survey in a user-centred project:

  • Focus the survey - discover the major decision points, or areas of uncertainty, in the thinking of the design team with regard to the usage of the offering or product in question. Focus in on those areas and find out what needs to be discovered. Involve the decision makers in the development of the survey, if possible: find out when they need the information by, and what organisational contexts are likely to be affected by the presentation of the results.
  • Creating the survey - reliable questions focus on simple things that occur relatively infrequently, and on preferences from a fixed set of alternatives. An important element of designing a survey is to develop the concept of trust between yourself and the respondents. Use open-ended questions sparingly, but always include an "Other (please specify)" option at the end of a list of choices.
  • Testing the survey - it is absolutely essential to test the survey before sending it out or releasing it. A survey test must be done in conditions as close to the real as possible. Another useful technique is to do a "walk through" the survey with a small number of typical respondents, asking them what they understand by each question as they go through the survey.
  • Conducting the survey - the sampling frame must be established: everyone from whom you require information must have an even chance of replying to the survey. Sampling theory is complex, and is best left to a statistician, but in essence you have to state how you define the total population from whom you want information, and then how you take an unbiased sample from that population.
  • Analysing the survey - how the results should be analysed should be clear from the outset, from the focusing activities. Coding and tabulating the data should be as automatic as possible, so as to rule out possibilities for random error or bias to creep in. Spreadsheets are obligatory here for keeping raw survey results, which can then be exported for more sophisticated analysis if required.
  • Presenting the results - you will naturally form your own opinions or biases as you work with the data. These are important, and you should present these, carefully marking them as your extrapolations from the data so as not to confuse objective fact with your subjective opinion.

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