Reasons for using questionnaires
Questionnaires are a useful method to investigate:
- patterns, frequency, ease and success of use
- user needs, expectations, perspectives, priorities and preferences
- user satisfaction with collections and services
- shifts in user attitudes and opinions
- relevance of collections and services to user needs
- trends (by repetition over time).
Advantages of questionnaires
The main advantages of questionnaires are:
- they are relatively easy to analyse
- they are familiar to library staff and managers
- a large sample of the given population can be contacted at relatively low
- they are simple to administer;
- the format is familiar to most respondents;
- they should be simple and quick for the respondent to complete
- information is collected in a standardised way
- they are usually straightforward to analyse
- they can be used for sensitive topics which users may feel uncomfortable
speaking to an interviewer about
- respondents have time to think about their answers; they are not usually required to reply immediately.
Disadvantages of questionnaires
The main disadvantages of questionnaires are:
- if you forget to ask a question, you cannot usually go back to respondents,
especially if they are anonymous
- it is sometimes difficult to obtain a sufficient number of responses, especially
from postal questionnaires
- those who have an interest in the subject may be more likely to respond,
skewing the sample
- respondents may ignore certain questions
- questionnaires may appear impersonal
- questions may be incorrectly completed
- they are not suitable to investigate long, complex issues
- respondents may misunderstand questions because of poor design and ambiguous
- questionnaires are unsuitable for some kinds of respondents, e.g. visually
- there is the danger of questionnaire fatigue if surveys are carried out
- they may require follow up research to investigate issues in greater depth and identify ways to solve problems highlighted.
Questionnaire design process
Stage 1: Determine what information is required. What do you want to find out?
Some surveys are carried out as a matter of routine eg annual user survey; others take place on a one-off basis and these often focus on a particular service or topic.
Stage 2: Decide on the audience for the questionnaire.
The questionnaire might be aimed at students, library staff or academic staff.
It might be appropriate to target a particular group of users eg part-time students, first year students, staff from a particular department.
In other cases, you may choose to select a random sample from a list of staff or students or simply hand out questionnaires in the library or elsewhere.
Stage 3: Decide on the method of data collection
|Rapport with respondents||X||X|
|Little staff time required||X||X|
|High response rate||X||X|
Online questionnaires may be a particularly suitable method to investigate EIS. These could be distributed via email or designed as web-based surveys which are reached via a link or pop-up automatically when a user clicks on a given page.
Advantages of using online questionnaires:
- they can be sent out relatively swiftly and turnaround can be relatively
- users get time to consider responses
- low costs
- responses can be precoded eliminating transcript errors
- data is already in electronic format making analysis easier
- guidance and/or software is widely available e.g. Quask.
Disadvantages of using online questionnaires:
- evaluators and users may experience technical problems
- non-users might be overlooked
- those who are less confident users of electronic services may be less willing
to complete an online questionnaire
- online questionnaires can yield low response rates
- unintended participants may respond by alert from colleague/friend
- people may respond more than once
- some surveys may be not deliverable online
Stage 3: Draft the questionnaire, considering content, wording, format, structure and layout
Issues to consider:
- Can the question be easily understood?
- Is the question too vague or too precise?
- Is the question biased?
- Is the question necessary to the evaluation?
- Will respondents be willing to provide the information?
- Is the question applicable to all respondents?
- Is the first question:
- a simple one so that nobody is put off?
- a general one that everybody has to answer?
Types of questions
Eg How useful do you find EIS when completing assignments?
Can you suggest any ways in which EIS might be promoted more effectively?
- Respondents can express themselves freely
- Useful for exploratory evaluations
- Good for respondents who like to answer in their own words
- May result in unexpected and anecdotal information.
- Respondents may provide either too much or too little information
- Time-consuming to complete
- Time-consuming to analyse.
Eg From which locations do you access EIS? Library/elsewhere on campus/off
Have you used the online help facility?
- Easier and less time consuming to complete
- Easier to analyse
- Answers can be compared more easily
- Likely to have a higher response rate and less missing data
- Questions may 'lead' the respondent
- Need to ensure mutually exclusive and exhaustive
Eg. How would you rate EIS overall? Very good, good, average, poor, very poor
- Good for sensitive topics
- Easy to analyse
- May be misunderstood by respondent
Other issues to consider
- Keep the layout consistent. In particular, try to line up response boxes
so that they are placed towards the right-hand side of the page. This will
help the person who inputs the information
- Although keeping layout consistent, allow for variety. Mix question styles
to give variation
- Allow ample space for answers, especially to open questions
- Clearly differentiate between instructions to the respondent and the questions
themselves, by using different type styles, for instance
- Allow "white space", even if this makes the questionnaire longer
- Use terms which will be easily understood by all respondents.
Stage 4: Pilot/test the questionnaire with colleagues or a sample of potential respondents and revise the questionnaire
Stage 5: Plan the timing of the questionnaire
E.g. Avoid times such as vacations and exam periods if targeting students.
Stage 6: Distribute the questionnaire
- Include information setting out the purpose of the questionnaire.
- Give clear instructions in a different typeface from the questions.
- Show a 'return by' date so the respondents know how much time they have.
- Ensure that the questionnaire is self-explanatory and stands alone.
- Introduce the questionnaire. The covering letter may go missing.
- "Sign off" by thanking the respondent and giving an address for mailing or instructions for return.
Stage 6: Chase non-respondents
Ways to maximise your response rate
- Provide rewards for respondents. These might be tangible such as making
the questionnaire as interesting as possible, emphasising the fact that the
respondent's support is appreciated and the results will be used to improve
services, or a tangible reward such as a gift token.
- Provide a reply-paid envelope.
- Make sure the questionnaire is not too time-consuming to complete.
- Use an easy response format if possible eg checkboxes.
- Reassure the respondent that their response will be treated in confidence
- Send a reminder to non-respondents.
Stage 7: Analyse the responses
Stage 8: Write up, present and use the findings