Layout

Sanchez (1992) points out that the design of the questionnaire layout is frequently overlooked as an important aspect of the development of the instrument. This is a mistake: Because in surveys employing self-completed questionnaires the main interface between the researcher and the respondent is the hard copy of the questionnaire; the format and graphic layout carry a special significance and have an important impact on the responses. Over the past 15 years I have increasingly come to the belief that producing an attractive and professional design is half the battle in eliciting reliable and valid data (for a discussion of the role of the layout in increasing respondent motivation, see Section 3.3.8).

What does an 'attractive and professional design' involve? The following list summarizes the five most important points:

• Booklet format. Not only does the questionnaire have to be short but it also has to look short. I have found that the format that feels most compact is that of a booklet. It can be achieved by taking a double-sized sheet (A3 size in Europe), photocopying two normal-sized pages on each of the sides, and then folding the sheet into two. This format also makes it easy to read and to turn pages (and what is just as important, it also prevents lost pages...).

• Appropriate density. With regard to how much material we put on a page, a compromise needs to be achieved: On the one hand, we want to make the pages full because respondents are much more willing to fill in a two-page rather than a four-page questionnaire even if the two instruments have exactly the same number of items. On the other hand, we must not make the pages look crowded (for example by economizing on the spaces separating different sections of the questionnaire). Effective ways of achieving this trade-off involve reducing the margins, using a space-economical font (e.g., 11- or 12-point Times New Roman), and utilizing the whole width of the page, for example by printing the response options next to the questions and not below (as illustrated in the following example).

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