How to Develop an Effective Market Research Questionnaire

How to Develop an Effective Market Research Questionnaire

As a technical editor in market research, I edit and review my fair share of questionnaires. We, as a firm, also spend a lot of time thinking about how to make questionnaires better. If your company is exploring how to conduct market research, you’re probably thinking about this, too.

When conducting customized market research for your organization , quantitative surveys and qualitative discussion guides are among the most effective tools at your disposal.

Surveys will help you collect data to validate or disprove the hypothesis your research was designed to answer with regard to product usage and attitude, channel behavior, brand awareness, and market opportunities. 

Getting the maximum value from a questionnaire, however, hinges on how it is developed. It’s important to tailor not only the focus of the survey but also the style of questions to your focused objective. 

How Long Should a Survey Be?

In assessing how to develop an effective market survey, one of the first decisions you will need to make is in regards to the length. What is the appropriate length for a questionnaire?

It seems logical that once you have gone to the trouble of developing a survey and distributing it to important clients or stakeholders, you would want to gather as much data as possible. However, that’s not always the case. 

Think back to a time when you have been subjected to a long questionnaire. You probably reached a point where you lost focus and then blindly clicked through the remainder of the questionnaire just to get it over with. This is a well-documented phenomenon known as respondent fatigue.

When respondents start to lose motivation and attention during an excessively long survey, their answers no longer reflect their genuine thoughts on a given issue—such as familiarity with certain brands or how they feel about your different product ideas—and, therefore, don’t provide meaningful data. To avoid respondent fatigue and gather quality data, ensure your questionnaire can be completed in 15 minutes or less.

It is far better to have people’s full attention for a short questionnaire than their wavering attention for a long one. Think quality over quantity when it comes to data. A limited survey is also valuable because it informs and guides your organization’s decision-making on one key finding or objective, rather than splitting attention across all issues at all times.  

5 Tips for Creating Effective Market Research Surveys

Beyond length, there are many nuances involved in questionnaire-writing based on what aspect of the building products industry and your company in particular you need answers about, as well as who you are asking to complete the survey. In general, you can improve the quality of your market research survey by abiding by these key principles:

1. Select Your Overarching Research Category

Driving successful strategies as a building materials manufacturer often means gaining deeper insights into four critical areas: customer, brand, product and market. Before you begin to develop your questionnaire, you must identify which category your research falls into, a central question to guide the project, and whether you are in need of qualitative or quantitative data to answer that question. From there, you can create more effective survey questions that get to the heart of the matter and provide truly pertinent data.

You may primarily use open-ended questions or closed-ended questions, or a combination of both. Rating scales are also a popular class of questions to incorporate into a survey when you’re asking participants to rate abstract concepts, such as the reasons they choose a product, the qualities they associate with a certain brand, their likelihood to recommend one of your products or their level of satisfaction with a particular product. If you’re trying to gauge the response to a new product prototype, you might even include a task- or activity-based question that is more interactive.

In general, when conducting quantitative research, which is more numbers-based and definitive, you will want to prioritize closed-ended questions that don’t provide as much leeway for varying interpretations. For qualitative research, which is more descriptive and observational, open-ended questions are highly appropriate.

It also depends on what, exactly, you are researching. For example, if you’re trying to measure unaided brand awareness versus aided brand awareness, you would want to include an open-ended question that asks the respondent to list what brands they are familiar with in regards to a particular product—rather than presenting them with a set list and asking them to choose from it.

2. Focus on One Key Objective For Your Research

A focused questionnaire yields more meaningful results. Before writing a questionnaire, jot down the central questions you want to answer with your research, based on the research category you selected at the start. That question might be, “How do consumers perceive our brand of paint?” or “What is our brand share of the total market?” or “Where are customers going to purchase these products?”

Make a list of the information you need in order to answer your key question. For the above example question about paint brands, this information might include respondent demographics, overall paint brand awareness, the qualities that respondents associate with your paint brand, and the available distribution channels for paint. 

Then, for each item in this list, brainstorm additional questions that will help you gather the information. For brand awareness, you might have respondents list paint brands they can recall or pick brands they recognize in a list.

If you are exploring a question related to market sizing, you would want to include questions about how often the respondent is in the market for your particular product and how much they spend on that product in a given year.

As you review your questions, ask yourself whether each one helps you answer your central question. If a question is not related to the fundamental issue, throw it out. Keeping your questions targeted is the hardest part of designing an effective questionnaire.

3. Write Question Stems that are 20 Words or Less

Respondents’ time and attention are limited. If confronted by a wordy question, people are not likely to read and understand the full question. To that end, keep your questions—whether open-ended or closed-ended—to 20 words or less.

You can often shorten a question by moving parts of it to the answer choices. Here is an example:

First draft of question:

Do you typically select a brand first and then shop at a retailer that carries that brand, or do you select a retailer first, then buy a brand they carry?

a. Select brand first

b. Select retailer first

Revised and simplified question:

Do you typically…?

a. Select a brand first, then shop at a retailer carrying that brand

b. Select a retailer first, then purchase a brand they carry

The revised version of the question is clearer and takes less time to read. It will be easier to understand, with the bonus of cutting down on questionnaire time and preventing respondent fatigue. Using precise language and avoiding compound questions also mitigates the risk of respondents interpreting the question in different ways. This leads to deeper insight and greater accuracy for your market research.

Additionally, writing questions in a conversational tone makes them shorter and easier to understand. One way to write conversationally is to read your questions aloud and ask yourself: If I were asking someone that question in a one-on-one conversation, would I say it that way?

4. Avoid Using Large Grids

Again, this comes down to people’s limited time and attention. Most people don’t have the patience to read every single element in a large grid and provide an authentic response in each row.

Consider this: If you ask respondents to assign each element in a 20-attribute list to one of five brands, you are actually asking them 100 separate questions. Almost no one has time for that.

For the sake of your data (and the sake of respondents), pare down the number of attributes in grids. Maybe there are three attributes and three brands that most pertain to your central question, allowing for a nine-question grid. Using this nine-question grid will yield clearer and more accurate results than the 100-question grid.

5. Clarify Your Units for Quantitative Data

This is simple but important, especially for open-ended questions that seek to gather quantitative data. If you ask on your survey, “How long have you been a general contractor?” some respondents may answer, “Since I was 32,” “Not long,” or “Since February 1989,” rather than quantifying it in years. It’s better to ask, “How many years have you been a general contractor?” instead. This way, everyone will specify a number and refer to the same unit, and the data will be much easier to analyze. Further, your data may correlate into trends by length of time and yield better insights for understanding your buyer personas.

In general, keep in mind that different stakeholders may also have different interpretations of abstract concepts like budget-friendly vs. expensive, what is “often” or “rarely,” or even levels of satisfaction. When you’re trying to measure elements related to price or frequency of purchase and use, it’s good to provide clarity and avoid any phrasing that could be deemed as “subjective.”

Utilize a Partner for Market Research

Another way to improve your questionnaire is to partner with a market research firm. Unless you’re a professional researcher with industry expertise and respondent knowledge, it can be daunting to write an effective questionnaire that gives your company critical insights. If you need help creating an effective questionnaire, and analyzing all the data afterward, The Farnsworth Group can help. 

Whether you’re focused on product development or better understanding current path to purchase trends among DIYers versus Pros, or other questions within the construction and home improvement markets at large, you will gain actionable recommendations based on our decades of building products industry knowledge to address your nuanced business objectives.