How to Write Better Qualitative & Quantitative Questions

Ever conduct a study and find that the answers you were hoping for weren’t quite what you expected? Sometimes this is due to the surprising nature of respondents—other times it means bias has influenced results. However, it could also just be that the questions weren’t written properly.

We’ve previously talked about the different types of qualitative and quantitative questions. But expanding upon the types, we now want to provide a framework and a few bits of advice on how to write better qualitative and quantitative study questions—to get you closer to the answers you need.

Qualitative Questions

As we know, qualitative questions are open-ended in nature and almost always looking to discover or understand more about an opportunity, problem, perceptions, and so on. Thus, they can be more difficult to craft. But when it comes to qualitative research questions, the most common reason they’re written poorly is due to a lack of specificity and depth. For example, asking about an experience without using tactics that drill into specific aspects of that experience could leave researchers with little insight.

While starting with an overarching objective or key question is important, researchers should map more thoughtful study questions back to the main objective. Incorporating these tactics into their process while they do so is likely to result in better qualitative questions:

  1. Determine whether you should ask a question implicitly or explicitly: Implicit questions imply the topic while explicit questions ask about it directly. For example, say you’re looking to learn what pain points exist in the use of a product. An implicit question would ask what a respondent’s experience is like using a particular product to determine if any pain points exist, while an explicit question would ask what their pain points are related to using a product. Both forms of questions have their own benefits, and the topic in question will drive whether you use one form or another: use implicit questions when you’re looking to explore a topic and explicit when you’re looking to validate it.
  2. Use the right words: Simple words should be used in qualitative questions so that every type of respondent can answer it easily. Avoid using words such as influence, relate, effect, pertain, etc., as these words can be difficult to understand and are usually interpreted differently.
  3. Incorporate projective techniques: Projective techniques are exercises or activities that are purposely ambiguous and unstructured in nature so that beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and motivations, which may otherwise be hard for consumers to articulate, can be uncovered. Using these techniques also helps keep respondents engaged and focused throughout a study.
  4. Leverage multiple questions: Obviously, only one qualitative question should be asked at a time, but if there is room in a study to ask a question in different ways it could be helpful to capture more in-depth answers and validate findings from one question to the other.
  5. Be clear: Be clear about what you are asking respondents to do or answer. Define whether you are asking them to describe or explain and whether they need to provide additional insight—such as why they feel that way.

In the end, go through your qualitative questions as if you are a respondent or have someone else do it. Would the answers that result be helpful? If not, there may be more room for improvement and you could benefit from incorporating one of the aspects above.

Quantitative Questions

Unlike qualitative questions, most researchers may agree that quantitative questions are easier to write. In fact, it’s more likely that the answers to these questions are the more difficult aspect of them. But when it comes to the varying types of quantitative questions, follow these steps to ensure a quality outcome:

  1. Determine the type of quantitative question: Whether it’s descriptive, comparative, or relationship-based it will drive what format you use (e.g., single-select, multiple choice, grid, etc.).
  2. Determine area(s) of interest: The area of interest is relative to the dependent variable and can encompass the various independent variables you may want to know, such as what, who, how many, how often, etc.
  3. Define the variables: After defining the dependent and independent variables, you’ll then need to determine whether the independent variables are categorical or continuous. Categorical variables can be nominal, dichotomous, or ordinal—meaning the answer options can be broken out into two or more categories. Examples of categorical variables include purchase intent, employment status, or yes/no questions. Continuous variables can be interval or ratio and are broken out into numerical values, such as temperature or price.  
  4. Build out an exhaustive list of answers: Determining all the different categories or potential answers is very important to make sure the right answers are selected—if you’re missing important options, then the ones selected may not be entirely true.

When you follow this process, you can start to structure your quantitative questions by putting together the different components. Whether developing quantitative or qualitative questions, take your time writing the questionnaire. A thoughtful approach to writing questions is an easy way to ensure quality results. If you want to learn more about how to use projective techniques in qualitative research, download the eGuide below. You’ll learn what types of techniques there are and how to incorporate them into your next study.

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