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  • The Max Planck Institute's Dept. of Linguistics has a long list of different questionnaire types available here
  • Bendor-Samuel, Bendor-Samuel & Jackson have a large number of suggestions of Questionnaire Topics


In western culture, questionnaires are often self-administered, but in pre-literate societies, this is impossible to carry out. Thus, what we often refer to in language survey as a questionnaire is similar in many ways to what social science calls an interview. Often though, in our contexts, one-on-one interviews are difficult to carry out as private locations to interview people may be hard to come by. In addition, it may not be socially acceptable for one person to speak on behalf of the entire community, nor may it be appropriate for a stranger to be in a room with a single member of the community, particularly if the participant is female.

We should therefore be aware of the social constraints that affect the administration of questionnaires in our particular context. The following guide is therefore simply an ideal and you may have to adapt it for your situation.

Designing a questionnaire

  1. Carry out thorough background research into your topic area. Through this, isolate 'holes' in your data or areas that you will need to collect data for.
  2. Reduce each of these holes to a variable. For example, imagine that there is a language project planned for a particular town and you want to know if people from the surrounding villages will collaborate on this project if this town is the venue. Through your research, you discover that there are regular buses running to the villages the town. However, there are a number of holes in your data:
    1. Do the people travel to the town? If not, why not?
    2. Are there any communities that are not on bus routes? How might they travel?
    3. Would there be any seasonal reasons why people might not travel? E.g. festivals, heavy rains
    4. How reliable are the buses?
    5. If people attend a workshop, what time must they finish to be sure of getting a bus home?
  1. each of these can be reduced to a variable that you are looking to identify e.g.
  2. time of last bus
  3. weather

  • It is possible for the surveyor to greatly influence the responses through the way they administer the questionnaire.
  • The length of the questionnaire will directly affect the amount of time it takes to administer and therefore the potential quality of the data collected, particularly in the latter stages of the process. However, if the surveyor is able to use the length of the questionnaire to develop rapport, latter questions may be able to go to a greater depth as this rapport strengthens the relationship.
  • Participants may find the process of their answers being recorded threatening, particularly if their personal details are noted.
  • Questionnaires must consider the educational and social background of the participants. If questions are too challenging, participants may need clarification and then the influence of the surveyor increases considerably.
  • Questions aimed at collecting factual data can be much easier to verify than those which collect data about opinions, attitudes and beliefs.
  • Open ended, multiple choice and closed questions are all different and which you choose when you design your questionnaire will affect the kind of data you end up with.

How to Administer a Questionnaire

Sample Questionnaires

Observation Schedule