The term 'short-answer questions' is sometimes used to distinguish these questions from 'essay questions' (which are not recommended in ordinaiy questionnaires and therefore will not be discussed). Short-answer questions involve a real exploratory enquiry about an issue;
that is, they require a more free-ranging and unpredictable response. As Gillham (2000, pp. 34-35) concludes, these questions:
can be motivating for the respondent, and they enable the researcher to trawl for the unknown and the unexpected. One or two questions of this type can be a good way of finishing a questionnaire, which can otherwise easily leave respondents with the impression that their personal opinions or experiences have to fit the straitjacket of prescribed answers.
Gillham even recommends the inclusion of a completely open concluding question, such as, "We have tried to make this questionnaire as comprehensive as possible but you may feel that there are things we have missed out. Please write what you think below, using an extra page if necessary" (pp. 34-35).
Good short-answer questions are worded in such a focused way that the question can be answered succinctly, with a 'short answer' - this is usually more than a phrase and less than a paragraph (and certainly no more than two paragraphs). That is, short-answer questions do not ask about things in general, but deal with only one concept or idea. For example, rather than asking, "What did you like about the workshop?" it might be better to narrow down the question by asking, "What was it you found most useful about the workshop?"
One type of questionnaire that is almost always concluded by a few open-ended questions is college forms for students to evaluate their teachers/courses. A typical final sequence of questions is as follows: What were the most effective aspects of this course? What were the least effective aspects of this course? How could this course be further improved?
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