Piloting a Questionnaire

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Prior to conducting a study (writing a dissertation), do remember to conduct a pilot of pre-test of your questionnaire. The aim of the pilot is to ensure that the structure of the questionnaire is a practical one and can be used to pinpoint and rectify problem areas and also improve the questionnaire.

Issues pertaining to the substance, language, structure, length and guidelines ought to be exposed during the pilot study and can then be improved upon. Also, during your pilot study, you may spot problems in relation to the size of the problem, rate of responses and also get an idea of the rough cost of administering a pilot study.

You can use some of the following methods to conduct your pilot. An initial draft of your questionnaire can be sent out to friends, work colleagues or veterans in the field for comments. Use the questionnaire for a small sample of people for instance, test it for 10 people for every 100 that constitutes your sample. These 10 people should not be part of your sample, but must possess the same characteristics as your sample. Do not include these 10 participants in your final sample.

You may find that, following your first pilot, your questionnaire is throwing up several errors and will not yield the desired results. In such an event, prepare a fresh questionnaire and conduct a repeat pilot. You may need to repeat this process till you have a satisfactory questionnaire in hand.

Your final questionnaire should not end up boring or offending your participants. Run it by friends and colleagues by all means, but remember that they will not be able to accurately estimate emotional responses or understand specific difficulties of your sample. Thus it is always a good option to get your questionnaire tested by a representative sample. Make sure you have enough time in hand to conduct multiple pilots. At the time of conducting the pilot, make descriptive notes regarding the manner in which participants are reacting to the structure of the questionnaire and also the individual questions in it. You should make a note of the following issues. How long does it take for respondents to complete it? Do questions have to be repeated or clarified and explained? Also observe how participants react to responses and choices in the questionnaire. Does a particular choice confuse or puzzle them? Are some questions surprising for them?

Sometimes, in the course of your pilot you will discover that responses are not satisfactory because your questions are not rightly framed or structured in the right order. In such cases, you will need to rephrase your questions and/or reconstruct the order of questions in the questionnaire. During the pilot phase, you may also get ideas about new questions to include or you may even think it appropriate to remove certain questions which are not serving the purpose of your research.

A sufficient number of individuals should participate in your pilot. Roping in only one or two people is usually not enough.