Need Assessment Questionnaire Design Guidelines

This page presents some guidelines for designing a need assessment questionnaire.

First, several typical question types that can be included in a questionnaire are listed in the following to help you design your own questions. Here, it is merely a brief summary. You can find more information in the references listed at the end of this article.

The questions can be designed in open or closed formats. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is also possible to use a mixture of the two formats. For example, an “others” option in a multiple-choice question allows respondents to give the answers which are not included in the option list.

1. Open-ended questions

Open format questions are those that ask for unprompted opinions. In other words, there are no predetermined set of responses.

  • It allows exploration of the range of possible themes arising from an issue.
  • There is no bias which comes from the limited response ranges
  • Respondents can qualify their answers.
  • It is time consuming to code
  • Researchers/ interviewers may misinterpret (and therefore misclassify) a response.

e.g. If there is a system which can help you make a travel plan, what information do you expect it would provide?

2. Closed questions

Closed format questions provide a set of answer options for respondents to choose from. It can be further classified into five categories in the following.

  • It is easy and quick to fill in.
  • It minimizes discrimination against the less literate (in self administered questionnaire) or the less articulate (in interview questionnaire).
  • It is easy to code, record, and analyze results quantitatively
  • It is easy to report results
  • It can draw misleading conclusions because of limited range of options.
  • It cannot deal with qualification to responses. For example, where only Yes or No are given as options.

2.1 Multiple-choice questions

e.g. If there is a system which can help you make a travel plan, which functions do you expect it would provide?
__reserve flights
__reserve hotels
__publish comments, such as ratings or reviews
__recommend more reasonable trip arrangements

2.2 Dichotomous questions

e.g. Have you purchased products online?

2.3 Rating or ranking questions

Respondents are asked to rate or rank each option that applies. This allows researchers to obtain information on relative preferences, importance etc.

e.g. Please indicate, in rank order, your everyday online activities (1: your most frequent activity, 6: your least frequent activity).
__browsing news online (e.g., browsing the website of BBC)
__searching for information (e.g., using google)
__online entertainment (e.g., playing online games, listening to online music or watching videos)
__online communication (e.g., using email, instant massagers, like MSN, Skype)
__online shopping (e.g., purchasing books at
__E-learning (e.g., attending online courses)

2.4 Likert-scale questions

Statement with which respondent shows the extent of agreement/disagreement

e.g. I prefer arranging my trips with the help of travel agencies.
__Strongly agree
__No opinion
__Strongly Disagree

2.5. Semantic differential questions

The scale is inscribed between two bipolar words and a respondent selects the point that most represents the direction and intensity of his/her choices.

e.g. I think this new system is:
Easy to use □□□□□□□ Difficult to use
Interesting   □□□□□□□ Boring


Structure of the needs assessment questionnaire

Usually, a needs assessment questionnaire includes five parts:

Part I: Introduce the objective of the survey you are conducting

In the first part of your questionnaire, you should give a brief introduction on why you perform this need assessment, and what it is for. In addition, you should mention what kinds of information you want to know from interviewees, and what they will be asked to do or the time that would be probably consumed. If necessary, you should point out that all the information they give will not be used in other ways and will be kept as confidential. In some cases, this is very important for obtaining honest answers. In the end, it would be better to express your appreciation for their time and effort to complete this questionnaire.

Part II: General Information

In this part, you can ask some demographic information questions and how a participant is familiar with the surveyed domain (e.g., product knowledge or previous usage experience). The experience/knowledge information can be used to estimate whether the person you are surveying would be a potential customer of your new product (or project) or whether his/her answers are valuable to your final analysis. Take a website development project as an example, you would pay some attention to users’ online experience.

Part III: Assessment of the current status

Before designing a new product (or project), you should know about the merits and weaknesses of the products (or projects) which are currently used to help people accomplish the same tasks, or how people perform the same tasks without such a product (or project). These weaknesses would be the aspects you will improve in your new product (or project) and the merits could be the aspects you should keep. For example, you can ask users to briefly describe how they perform the task currently, what the advantages and disadvantages of the current methods are.

Part IV: Expectations from users you are surveying

This part explores new functions that users are expecting, but do not yet exist. For example, suppose you are developing a new online travel website, what kinds of services or information users expect from this website and whether these services are attractive to them.

Part V: Any comments (optional)

Finally, you should provide some place for interviewees to give any comments regarding the assessment. It can provide supplementary and useful information that you haven’t considered in your needs assessment questionnaire.