Survey book of the month: Developing a Questionnaire

It’s been a crazy busy month, with wonderful, challenging work to do – so I was extra pleased that I had a really short, easy read waiting for you, Developing a Questionnaire by Bill Gillham (2nd edition, 2008).

A short, very practical book

Gillham’s book is only 107 pages, and yet he manages to get through both creating a questionnaire and conducting a survey.

The first chapter explains the pros and cons of questionnaires, and is thoroughly realistic about both. Example of a pro: “Respondents can complete the questionnaire when it suits them”, and of a con: “Assumes respondents have answers available in an organised fashion”.

Then there are three chapters devoted to the preparation, drafting and design of the questionnaire.

Chapters 4 through 13 take you through a survey process, up to presenting your findings.

It’s a very sensible book, packing a lot into those few pages. For example, he gives you a clear and practical 11-point process for analysing open questions. Here are the first four steps:

  1. Take each person’s response in turn.
  2. Go through each one, highlighting substantive statements – the statements that make a key point, that really say something. In written form this will be true of most of the material, so your job is to separate them out. However, when you are working on the transcript of a recorded interview it is more difficult because speech has a lot of ‘redundancy’ – repetitions, irrelevant material, digressions of one kind or another.
  3. As you mark out the substantive statements, you will find categories forming in your mind. Note this process but don’t do anything about it at this stage.
  4. Take a break, reflecting on what you have just done. This is to give your impressions a chance to settle, without becoming fixed.

and then it continues, with step 5 starting: “Now comes the difficult creative stage” – but he does tell you what you have to be creative about, and how to do it.

Aimed at academic researchers

The book is part of the ‘Real World Research’ series published by Continuum. Although the blurb on the back claims that they are aimed at ‘business, the professions and academia’, this book seems to me to be squarely aimed at the beginning academic researcher: someone who is planning to do a survey for the first time as part of the activities for a research project leading to a degree.

I think it’s great that the book has a clearly defined audience, but that sometimes means that it’s less relevant to the UX person. For example, we are rarely in a position to send out a letter asking people to participate in our survey on a university’s headed paper.

Does not include anything about the web

Although the second edition came out in 2007, it was originally published 2000 – before most people had internet access. So it’s mostly thinking in terms of paper surveys, with some acknowledgement of telephone and face-to-face surveys.

Plenty in it for the UX practitioner

Despite those two omissions, there is a lot of good, straightforward, helpful advice in this book – and at 107 pages, you can read it in a couple of hours.

This article first appeared as a blog post on the Rosenfeld Media website.