Precode Questionnaire

Virtually all surveys are now tabulated by computer. Many telephone interviews are conducted using equipment which permits the interviewer to record the answer directly into the computer. After personal and mail interviews, however, the information must be transferred from the questionnaire to the computer. To speed this process questionnaires are precoded that is, the codes that will be entered in the computer are printed on the questionnaire so that when a respondent checks an answer, it identifies the code to be transferred to the computer. For example, if computer cards are used to enter the data into the computer, a code identifies the column and position in the column which is to be punched in the computer card. A question and possible answers might be shown as follows:

Do you use the spray device when you iron?

Col 12

Always 1
Sometimes 2
Never 3

The answer given would be marked with an X in the appropriate box, and the card punches would know to punch that code in column 12.

While precoding is designed to speed the tabulation process, it also has a desirable effect in forcing the researcher to think through each question and the possible answers. If the answers that will be obtained won’t provide the information needed for action, a new or rewarded question is called for. At this point it is clear why open questions that lead to longer answers shunned by researchers whenever possible.

Decide on Layout and Reproduction:

The physical layout and reproduction of a questionnaire can influence its success with respondents and can affect the problems encountered in handling it at the researcher’s office. Three major points should be considered in planning the layout and reproduction of the questionnaire: (1) securing acceptance of the questionnaire by respondents, (2) making it easy to control the questionnaires, and (3) making it easy to handle the questionnaires.

Securing Acceptance of the Questionnaire:

The physical appearance of a questionnaire influences the attitude of the respondent toward a mail or personal interview survey. If the questionnaire is mimeographed on a poor grade of paper, the respondent is apt to think the project does not amount to much. Printing on a good quality of paper, however, makes the questionnaire appear to be of some value.

The name of the firm sponsoring the project and the name of the project should appear at the top of the first page or on the cover if the questionnaire is in book form. Most companies use fictitious names on their questionnaires in order to prevent biased answers from respondents and also to forestall phone calls from respondents asking information about the survey.

Experiments made in preparing the mail questionnaire for the 1980 Census showed that the general format, spacing and positioning of questions had significant effect on the results, especially on the reaction to the questionnaire and, hence, full completion of it. Questions at the top of the page got more attention than when placed at the bottom. Instructions printed in red made little difference except they made respondents think that the questionnaire was more complicated than otherwise.

Ease of Control:

To make it possible to control the questionnaires in the filed operation and in the editing and tabulating procedures, the questionnaires should be numbered serially. This enables the research director to verify that all questionnaires are accounted for or to determine which ones are lost. Mail questionnaires are an exception. If these are numbered, respondents will assume that the number identifies a given questionnaire them personally. It is generally believed that some respondents will refuses to reply or will answer differently under this condition. Recent research, however, suggests that the loss of anonymity influences results very little, if any.

Similarly, the questions on the questionnaire should be numbered serially. This makes reference to individual questions simpler and spends up editing and tabulating.