Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate Hands-on guide to questionnaire research

Selecting, designing, and developing your questionnaire

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 27 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1312
  1. Petra M Boynton, lecturer in health services research (,
  2. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care1
  1. 1Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London, Archway Campus, London N19 5LW
  1. Correspondence to: P M Boynton
  • Accepted 17 March 2004

Anybody can write down a list of questions and photocopy it, but producing worthwhile and generalisable data from questionnaires needs careful planning and imaginative design

The great popularity with questionnaires is they provide a “quick fix” for research methodology. No single method has been so abused.1

Questionnaires offer an objective means of collecting information about people's knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour.2 3 Do our patients like our opening hours? What do teenagers think of a local antidrugs campaign and has it changed their attitudes? Why don't doctors use computers to their maximum potential? Questionnaires can be used as the sole research instrument (such as in a cross sectional survey) or within clinical trials or epidemiological studies.

Randomised trials are subject to strict reporting criteria,4 but there is no comparable framework for questionnaire research. Hence, despite a wealthof detailed guidance in the specialist literature,13> 5 w1-w8 elementary methodological errors are common.1 Inappropriate instruments and lack of rigour inevitably lead to poor quality data, misleading conclusions, and woolly recommendations.w8 In this series we aim to present a practical guide that willenable research teams to do questionnaire research that is well designed, well managed, and non-discriminatory and which contributes to a generalisable evidence base. We start with selecting and designing the questionnaire.

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What information are you trying to collect?

You and your co-researchers may have different assumptions about precisely what information you would like your study to generate. A formal scoping exercise will ensure that you clarify goals and if necessary reach an agreed compromise. It will also flag up potential practical problems—for example, how long the questionnaire will be and how it might be administered.

As a rule of thumb, if you are not familiar enough with the research area or with a particular population subgroup to predict the range …

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