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A questionnaire ( plural : questionnaire , regionally also: questionnaires , English and French questionnaire ) is an instrument for collecting data . Questionnaires are used very widely, especially in psychology and social sciences , to record social and political attitudes , opinions , interests and psychological characteristics .

A questionnaire is less time-consuming than a psychological interview , so that it is easier to examine a large number of people for statistically reliable statements. A distinction must be made between the standardized questionnaires and the questionnaires constructed using test methods, which are used to measure characteristics or properties, from the simple lists of questions (which are used for documentation or where mostly only the answers are evaluated in terms of content). In addition, forms such as applications or tax returns are often referred to as questionnaires if they are used for standardized data collection.

Types of questionnaires

Questionnaire is a very general term and includes:

  • an ad hoc list of questions that were compiled solely on the basis of content-related aspects.
  • a partially standardized questionnaire in which the questions are uniformly formulated and arranged, but the respondents can answer freely;
  • a standardized questionnaire in which the questions are uniformly formulated and arranged and the respondents choose between given answers;
  • a standardized questionnaire for which extensive empirical results are already available, in particular from surveys representative of the population, so that current results can be compared statistically;
  • Questionnaires which, like psychological tests, were constructed according to certain methodological and statistical criteria; they are also known as scales .

In psychology, a distinction is made between questionnaire methods, for example interest and personality questionnaires , and aptitude tests , for example school tests and intelligence tests . Only with the latter are there objectively correct or incorrect answers. An IQ test to assess intelligence is not a questionnaire.

Development and standardization

A questionnaire must always be developed with a view to the aim of the survey, the type of survey and the desired evaluation options. An important property of questionnaires is the standardization of questions and answer options. All respondents are presented with a questionnaire with identical content so that a large number of people can be recorded. Disadvantages are that it is not possible to deal with each respondent individually and that the respondent is influenced and restricted by the specification of answer options. At the beginning of the questionnaire development is the selection of suitable items for the area of ​​interest. This primarily includes questions that have already been tried and tested, but there are also new questions that are theoretically derived by the investigators, developed on the basis of detailed interviews, reformulated, discussed with other experts if possible, and empirically tested for their comprehensibility. From this "item pool" (English item collection) ultimately, u. U. in several stages of the revision, a suitable instrument.

Questionnaire forms

Questionnaires can be used in both paper and digital form. They can be filled in independently or used by an interviewer for a direct survey.

Paper-bound (as a form)

The printed questionnaires (also paper-pencil or paper-pencil methods) are the traditional form. They are easy to use everywhere, as they can be completed by the respondent himself. That is why a questionnaire often replaces an interview. But there are various sources of error: Uncertainty as to when the questionnaire was filled out, lack of opportunity for clarifying queries about the meaning of a question, errors in filling out, no direct possibility to check the plausibility of the answers, transmission errors in the evaluation. Compared to "electronic questionnaires", a paper-based questionnaire is more costly (printing costs, postage costs, more time-consuming evaluation). On the other hand, many respondents are more likely to accept a printed questionnaire than a digital, computer-aided form.

Digital form

Computer-aided questionnaires are increasingly being made available via the Internet as online surveys , whereby they can be evaluated either manually or with suitable software. The simplest type of questionnaire on the Internet is polling on current topics, in which typically a single question is asked and two or more answer options are given, which are selected by a simple click.

For psychological diagnostics, computer-aided test systems have been developed that present questionnaires and other tests on the screen, evaluate them using appropriate software, and deliver results. For data collection in everyday life, questionnaires and tests can be presented on a Personal Digital Assistant PDA or via mobile phone (cell phone), whereby interactive data collection and, in the case of real-time evaluation, feedback to the examined are possible (see outpatient assessment ).

The digital form enables flexible programming of the layout of the questions and the answer options, branching of the questions, a timely logging of inputs, reaction delays and input times as well as various data controls with regard to missing answers, systematic errors, very unlikely (implausible) answers. The data transfer is simpler and safer, as the data collected can usually be read directly into an evaluation software. Although the methodology is not under development, it is inexpensive to use, but it may not be suitable for non-computer users. The schematic application of psychological questionnaires as "tests" on the Internet can be problematic and also questionable in terms of professional ethics.

Questionnaire interview

In the case of a personal or telephone questionnaire interview, the interviewer takes the exact questions from a standardized questionnaire and logs the answers using the given answer options. In social science surveys in market and opinion research, the interviewers often use printed cards with questions or answers in order to standardize the process even further. A disadvantage is the high costs for the interviewer compared to paper-based and computer-aided surveys. However, the response rate increases through the personal survey .

Question and answer formats

A questionnaire usually consists of instructions and the individual items (from English pieces, elements), i.e. questions or statements (statements) and the associated answer options (categories). There are various options for the formats of the items and response categories. Most of the questionnaires do not contain open questions, but rather closed questions, ie they provide specific answer options so that respondents can only choose. The cited textbooks on test construction and questionnaire methodology contain many rules and instructions on how to formulate the questions and answer options in an understandable manner. Frequent mistakes are the use of particularly ambiguous terms, foreign words, double negations.

The following item formats are common:

Open questions can be answered freely. Examples are:

Where are you from?
What is your favourite food?
Who is your favorite actor?

For closed questions, the answer options are given and selected. A distinction is made between the following types:

Yes / no questions (dichotomous questions)

Yes / no questions allow only two possible answers. Sometimes “don't know” is also offered as a third answer option.


Do you only want to eat cheese toast from tomorrow?
yes | No

Classification questions

In the case of grouping questions, certain value ranges are specified in which the respondent is to be classified.


How old are they?
under 18 | 18–29 | 30-45 | 46-60 | over 60
What is your BMI ? (Weight divided by the square of your height)
under 18 | 18-24.9 | 25 or higher

Rating scales (with scaled answers)

Scaled answers here mean that the individual levels graduate the frequencies, degrees of applicability, intensities, etc. and have at least the ordinal scale level . The levels can be coded verbally ( verbal rating scale ), numerically ( numerical rating scale ) or using symbols ( symbolic rating scale ).

Examples on a scale from 1 to 10:

How scared are you right now?
"No fear at all" ... "panic fear"

Examples on a scale from 1 to 5:

How satisfied are you with the customer service?
very satisfied | mostly satisfied | is balanced | mostly dissatisfied | very dissatisfied

Example of school grades (Germany 1 to 6, Switzerland 6 to 1):

What school grade do you give Ms. Merkel for her success in climate protection?
1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6th
What school grade do you give Swiss education policy?
6; 5; 4; 3; 2; 1

Sum questions


Distribute 100 points on the following answers:
Vacation is best: in the mountains | by the sea | At home



Arrange the following answers according to "first second third" etc:
Most important to me: work | Health | Partnership | Friends | Money | Fun | Children | Love | Sex | House | adventure

Odd or even number of levels

Scales with an odd number (e.g. 1,2,3,4,5 or 1,2,3,4,5,6,7) have a middle category, which can be interpreted differently by the respondent and possibly none enables clear evaluation. An answer in the middle position to the question "Are you child-friendly" can e.g. B. mean: "Sometimes yes, sometimes no.", "I don't know.", "I don't want to say anything about that.", "I find the question unimportant.", "This question annoys me." Etc. Consequently, one would result Evaluation using an average makes little sense and would distort the overall result .

Single and multiple choice

Items can also be differentiated according to whether the respondent only has a single answer option or can choose several alternatives.

Supplementary option

In each case, a supplementary option can be added that enables the respondent to expand the answer alternatives with his own answers that are not available among the existing alternatives.

Example of a multiple choice with additional option:

Which detergents did you use last year (multiple choices possible)?
A | B | C | Other, namely: ____


The evaluation options depend on the type of response format selected. Numerical answers, such as attitudes measured on a Likert scale , can be evaluated statistically, while open-ended answer formats usually require a qualitative analysis. As soon as the questionnaire is developed, the evaluations desired later with their special requirements should be taken into account (see psychometrics , scaling and scale level ).

Quality criteria

There are various criteria for assessing the quality of a questionnaire. The most important criteria are the empirical validity ( validity ), the formal reliability ( reliability ) and - in the case of questionnaires with standardization - the representativeness for the total population. Further aspects are the acceptance by the respondents ("addressee justice": comprehensibility, reasonableness, transparency), the economic efficiency (implementation time, manageability, evaluability, costs) and other general quality criteria of psychodiagnostic procedures .

Areas of application and examples

The majority of the questionnaires used today in social research and in psychological diagnostics as well as differential psychology or personality psychology are test methods that have been developed and empirically verified. A distinction must be made in terms of content a .: Questionnaires for social and political attitudes, interests , religious orientation and other values, personality traits , self-reports about emotions and moods , physical and psychological complaints and other characteristics that can be determined by judgment tests . Other areas of application are market research (e.g. customer satisfaction surveys ), opinion research , for employee surveys or the evaluation of courses .


Given answer options are often criticized as schematic or ambiguous. Information about the relative frequency of issues (often, sometimes, rarely, never) or their intensity (very strong, strong, weak, very weak) is understood very differently, as empirical studies have shown. With an odd number of levels, the middle position can be mistakenly understood as a “normal” value. That is why a middle category is often deliberately left out. On the other hand, it is to be expected that some people will criticize the questionnaire precisely for this reason.

The responses to the questionnaires mainly represent self-reports and self-assessments, unless they are only about socio-economic data and other facts. Especially when it comes to morality and values, the real behavior of the respondents and the information on the questionnaire often differ. The extent to which the actual behavior agrees with these statements can only be assessed by psychologically qualified evaluators based on additional information. Social psychology has dealt extensively with this problem of attitude and behavior . Method-conscious scientists will endeavor, if possible, to obtain additional information in order to secure the information from the questionnaire (see multimodal diagnostics ).

Methodologically, several sources of error can be distinguished, which, however - like errors in data transmission and data analysis - can also occur with other investigation methods: questions that can be misunderstood and lead to uncertain answers; Omitting individual answers because the questions are experienced as unclear or intrusive; certain response tendencies ( response bias), intentional falsification and unintentional biases. Methodological problems of this kind were examined and critically discussed above all with the scales for measuring social attitudes and with the personality questionnaires.


  • Hans Dieter Mummendey, Ina Grau (2008): The questionnaire method. 5th edition. Hogrefe Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8017-1948-7 .
  • Beatrice Rammstedt: Questionnaire. In: Franz Petermann and Michael Eid (eds.): Handbuch der Psychologische Diagnostik, Hogrefe, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-8017-1911-1 , pp. 109-134.
  • Rolf Porst: Questionnaire - A workbook. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2009, ISBN 978-3531164359
  • Markus Bühner : (2011): Introduction to test and questionnaire construction. 3rd, act. and exp. Ed., Pearson Studies. ISBN 978-3-86894-033-6
  • Uwe Flick (2013): Handbook Qualitative Social Research: Basics, Concepts, Methods and Applications. 3rd edition, Beltz Verlag. ISBN 978-3-621-28074-7

Web links

Commons : Questionnaire  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Questionnaire  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Manfred Eberwein: Directory of psychological and pedagogical test procedures from the database segment PSYNDEX Tests (16th edition). Trier: Center for Psychological Information and Documentation (ZPID). University of Trier. Accessed March 1, 2009 ( PDF ).
  • GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences: Compilation of Social Science Items and Scales (ZIS), Version 14.00, 2010. Accessed on September 8, 2012 ( ISSN  1867-5972 , ISBN 978-3-86819-014-4 ). (Formerly the ZUMA scale manual) [1]

Individual evidence

  1. International Test Commission (2008): Guidelines on Computer-Based and Internet Delivered Testing. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on October 22, 2010 ; Retrieved January 14, 2009 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Bernd Rohrmann: Empirical studies on the development of answer scales for social science research. In: Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie, 1978, 9, 222–245
  3. Norbert Schwarz, B. Scheuring: Self-reported behavior and symptom frequencies: What respondents learn from the answers given in the questionnaire. In: Journal for Clinical Psychology, 1992, Volume 21, 197-208