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Questionnaire design: the good, the bad and the pitfalls
  1. Denise Thwaites Bee,
  2. Deborah Murdoch-Eaton
  1. Academic Unit of Medical Education, The Medical School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Deborah Murdoch-Eaton, Academic Unit of Medical Education, The Medical School, University of Sheffield, Beech Hill Road, Sheffield S10 2RX, UK; d.murdoch-eaton{at}

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You have a question, or want to find out current perceptions about a subject, and a comprehensive literature search does not give the answer. A questionnaire or survey, if appropriately designed and administered, can be an easy and efficient way to collect data. However, a well-designed tool is essential to provide meaningful answers.

Guidance on good questionnaire design is available.1–4 This can be framed around three simple steps: preparation—evaluation—delivery. Analysis and interpretation are the final stages of completing the research.


Is a survey method the most appropriate research tool to answer the question? Questionnaires are useful to investigate opinions or attitudes of a population. If a questionnaire is chosen as the research tool, the next step is to identify whether a validated instrument already exists. If a tool needs to be designed, what format would be of greatest value in answering the enquiry; a structured interview or a self-completed written form? The latter can gather a large amount of rich data, while the former provides a deeper understanding through semistructured questioning.3

Self-completed questionnaires require careful construction with clear articulation of purpose. Their success depends strongly on format as well as the wording; use an attractive, easy to navigate presentation and ensure the length is kept as short as possible. Consider whether to include open or closed questions, or a combination of both. Questions should only include a single point, written unambiguously and contained within short sentences. Wording should be appropriate for your survey population and avoid jargon to reduce potential confusion. Closed questions can provide large amounts of easily handled (often numerical) data. Open questions, as in free …

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  • Contributors Both authors have contributed equally to this paper. DTB completed the first draft; both authors have worked together on the subsequent and final versions.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.