Online-questionnaire design: establishing guidelines and evaluating existing eupport

Joanna Lumsden, Wendy Morgan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputConference publication


As a new medium for questionnaire delivery, the internet has the potential to revolutionise the survey process. Online (web-based) questionnaires provide several advantages over traditional survey methods in terms of cost, speed, appearance, flexibility, functionality, and usability [1, 2]. For instance, delivery is faster, responses are received more quickly, and data collection can be automated or accelerated [1- 3]. Online-questionnaires can also provide many capabilities not found in traditional paper-based questionnaires: they can include pop-up instructions and error messages; they can incorporate links; and it is possible to encode difficult skip patterns making such patterns virtually invisible to respondents. Like many new technologies, however, online-questionnaires face criticism despite their advantages. Typically, such criticisms focus on the vulnerability of online-questionnaires to the four standard survey error types: namely, coverage, non-response, sampling, and measurement errors. Although, like all survey errors, coverage error (“the result of not allowing all members of the survey population to have an equal or nonzero chance of being sampled for participation in a survey” [2, pg. 9]) also affects traditional survey methods, it is currently exacerbated in online-questionnaires as a result of the digital divide. That said, many developed countries have reported substantial increases in computer and internet access and/or are targeting this as part of their immediate infrastructural development [4, 5]. Indicating that familiarity with information technologies is increasing, these trends suggest that coverage error will rapidly diminish to an acceptable level (for the developed world at least) in the near future, and in so doing, positively reinforce the advantages of online-questionnaire delivery. The second error type – the non-response error – occurs when individuals fail to respond to the invitation to participate in a survey or abandon a questionnaire before it is completed. Given today’s societal trend towards self-administration [2] the former is inevitable, irrespective of delivery mechanism. Conversely, non-response as a consequence of questionnaire abandonment can be relatively easily addressed. Unlike traditional questionnaires, the delivery mechanism for online-questionnaires makes estimation of questionnaire length and time required for completion difficult1, thus increasing the likelihood of abandonment. By incorporating a range of features into the design of an online questionnaire, it is possible to facilitate such estimation – and indeed, to provide respondents with context sensitive assistance during the response process – and thereby reduce abandonment while eliciting feelings of accomplishment [6]. For online-questionnaires, sampling error (“the result of attempting to survey only some, and not all, of the units in the survey population” [2, pg. 9]) can arise when all but a small portion of the anticipated respondent set is alienated (and so fails to respond) as a result of, for example, disregard for varying connection speeds, bandwidth limitations, browser configurations, monitors, hardware, and user requirements during the questionnaire design process. Similarly, measurement errors (“the result of poor question wording or questions being presented in such a way that inaccurate or uninterpretable answers are obtained” [2, pg. 11]) will lead to respondents becoming confused and frustrated. Sampling, measurement, and non-response errors are likely to occur when an online-questionnaire is poorly designed. Individuals will answer questions incorrectly, abandon questionnaires, and may ultimately refuse to participate in future surveys; thus, the benefit of online questionnaire delivery will not be fully realized. To prevent errors of this kind2, and their consequences, it is extremely important that practical, comprehensive guidelines exist for the design of online questionnaires. Many design guidelines exist for paper-based questionnaire design (e.g. [7-14]); the same is not true for the design of online questionnaires [2, 15, 16]. The research presented in this paper is a first attempt to address this discrepancy. Section 2 describes the derivation of a comprehensive set of guidelines for the design of online-questionnaires and briefly (given space restrictions) outlines the essence of the guidelines themselves. Although online-questionnaires reduce traditional delivery costs (e.g. paper, mail out, and data entry), set up costs can be high given the need to either adopt and acquire training in questionnaire development software or secure the services of a web developer. Neither approach, however, guarantees a good questionnaire (often because the person designing the questionnaire lacks relevant knowledge in questionnaire design). Drawing on existing software evaluation techniques [17, 18], we assessed the extent to which current questionnaire development applications support our guidelines; Section 3 describes the framework used for the evaluation, and Section 4 discusses our findings. Finally, Section 5 concludes with a discussion of further work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging modern organizations through information technology
Subtitle of host publicationproceedings of the 2005 Information Resources Management Association international conference
EditorsMehdi Khosrow-Pour
PublisherIGI Global
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)978-1-59140-822-2
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2005
Event2005 Information Resources Management Association International Conference - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: 15 May 200518 May 2005


Conference2005 Information Resources Management Association International Conference
Abbreviated titleIRMA 2005
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • information resources management
  • library and information science
  • multimedia networking


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