Importance of question sequence in MR questionnaire design

One of the most important aspects in designing a market research (MR) questionnaire is the sequence of the questions. Each question that you ask poses a potential danger to sensitize or condition the respondent, and thereby bias the respondent in the subsequent questions. One example is that asking a question like ‘Have you heard of Brand X?’ itself raises conscious awareness of the respondent who may not be consciously aware of the brand. Another example is that if a respondent is asked to indicate which brand s/he buys and later if s/he is asked to rate the brands, then there is a danger that the respondent might try to be consistent with his or her earlier answers, and hence will give higher ratings to the brand the respondent buys.

At a high level, the general rules are:

1. Ask the most important questions first when the respondent is more active.

2. Ask those questions which are most sensitive to conditioning such as attitudes and preferences earlier.

3. Ask factual and historical information towards the end as respondent becomes less enthusiastic and fatigued.

In a well-designed questionnaire, the respondent should not know the brand of interest (the brand for which the research is being conducted) up to a desired stage, thus avoiding any respondent bias. If the respondent comes to know that the research is being done for Brand X, then the respondent may become biased towards the Brand X. So, any question that has a danger of revealing the brand of interest must be delayed until all the information that is prone to conditioning is retrieved.

The most popular way of designing a questionnaire is the funnel approach. ESOMAR defines the funnel approach as ‘A way of ordering questions in a questionnaire so that general questions are asked before specific questions. This ordering avoids the responses to specific questions biasing the answers to general questions.’

Typically, the questions regarding awareness of the brands in the marketplace must be asked first. In fact, if the awareness of brands is being measured, then awareness must be the first question which must be asked when the category is mentioned.

Purchase Intention (PI) is one of the most important measures and is very sensitive to conditioning, so it should be asked immediately after the awareness question or as soon as possible depending on the research objective. In controlled experiments, the purchase intention should be asked immediately after exposure to the treatment.

PI should be followed by the attribute ratings – which attributes (category) are considered important by the respondent?. Brand Evaluation on the attributes should be asked next. All the brands that featured in the earlier purchase intention question must be individually evaluated against the attributes. Moreover, it helps to quantify the Fishbein Model. This can be followed by questions on brand behaviour, category behaviour, psychographics, and demographics.

Question Sequencing is a huge research area and there is a lot of interesting research regarding the right position of a question, the right way to frame a question, and the right scale to be used. One example is that some experts say that the consumers tend to be biased towards the left side in a Likert Scale. Another example is that some experts say that demographics should come at the start, while others say that demographics should come at the end. Some people take the middle path by asking the key recruitment demographic questions early and then postpone the rest of the demographic questions until the end.

All the above mentioned factors together make questionnaire design a very interesting and a crucial work in quantitative market research. But due to very demanding timelines, practising market researchers may not always be able to devote enough time for the questionnaire design.