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Questionnaire Design and Data Collection Alignment

Design to Align
Questionnaire or Research Instrument (RI) design for any data collection approach (e.g., telephone and web-based) must be aligned with the method selected. Web-based and telephone instruments share the major requirements for good design, such as avoiding (at all costs) double-barreled questions, clear question construction, use of definitions when needed, and many other basic tenets of question writing.

However, the implementation of the RI for a web-based versus a telephone study requires different treatments of some issues. For example, the instruction sets used by interviewers versus instructions provided for respondents need to be written with each approach in mind.

In telephone interviews the interviewer can tell the person what to expect and read definitions to the interviewee. Web-based instruments must be careful not to ask too much of the respondent with respect to long passages the person must read to answer a set of questions.

On the other hand, a web-based study allows the respondent to go at his or her own pace and easily review a set of answers or change item percents that need to total to 100%. These examples and many other considerations need to be taken into account when designing the research instrument to optimize data collection and data quality.

Using a Hybrid Approach
An interesting option is the use of a hybrid approach, such as the telephone-to-web method, which combines telephone recruiting and screening with a URL for data collection. Another hybrid approach is to allow respondents to choose between a web-based instrument and a telephone interview. Only studies that can be conducted equally well with both methods should attempt this approach.

The telephone-to-web hybrid approach leverages the advantages of both data collection methods. It brings a level of control to the web-based method that is otherwise minimal. It allows researchers to use lists not constructed for web interaction, and it maximizes your ability to fill quotas. In addition, when the benefits of a web approach outweigh the telephone method, the combination allows the research team to use the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, in practice this best of both worlds approach does not often materialize. The reason is simple: Although telephone recruiting is used for all its advantages, in the end, the percent of respondents that complete the instrument is often too low to justify the cost.

This was not always the case, but the percent of telephone-recruited, web-based completes has been dropping over the last several years. What once yielded good results at a competitive price point (especially for larger studies) now may cost more than a telephone survey.

Completion ratios of 50-60% or higher (i.e., 1 in 2 or more recruited telephone respondents complete the study) are typically cost effective. However, a ratio of 1 complete per 3 recruited respondents or a 1 in 4 completion ratio are not tenable. This has caused a significant decrease in the use of this approach and new approaches have not been forthcoming to take the place of this hybrid method. However, some companies are experimenting with improved recruitment methods and on occasion this approach might yield cost-effective results.

Ultimately, the research requirements should be the most important consideration when selecting a data collection methodology. A detailed evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach in relation to the goals of the study will provide the best basis for that decision.

In this short paper we have touched on a few of the key issues researchers must address as they scope out a study and define the data collection approach to achieve high quality results. The length of this paper does not allow for an in-depth treatment of the issues presented nor does it identify all the concerns one must be take into account. However, it does provide an overview that should help readers understand the complex relationship between selecting a data collection method and the work required to accomplish the goal of optimizing a questionnaire design.

About Author Carey Azzara :

For more details on questionnaire design go to Featured Resource on the Homepage or contact Carey. He is a research professional with 20 years experience and two advanced degrees. Two important features of AtHeath are its Market Research Resource Center and the Expert Community.
Our blog "The Research Playbook" is
Carey's newest book: Questionnaire Design for Business Research (2010, Tate Publishing) please visit

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Article Added on Monday, April 26, 2010
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