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Instructions

General information on instructions

Include sufficient instructions to enable the respondent to correctly understand how to respond to the questionnaire.

Place instructions at the point where respondents are ready to act on them.

Place instruction boxes before the response options so that respondents have to read the instruction before they start answering the question.

If the questionnaire only requires one or two additional opening instructions, add them to the same pane as the instructions for how to fill in the questionnaire. If a large number of opening instructions are required, use separate panes, and give each a question number.

See also:

Instructions for filling in the questionnaire

Place instructions for filling in the questionnaire inside a question pane, and include a question number.

Place these instructions on the first page of the questionnaire, following the front page.

If you use heading banners in your questionnaire, place these instructions under a heading banner (eg 'Instructions' or 'How to answer'), to draw the eye immediately to the correct place to start. Otherwise, there is a risk that respondents will be drawn to wherever the banner is first used (eg halfway down the page).

Example of instructions for filling in the questionnaire

Image, Example of instructions for filling in the questionnaire.   top

Additional instructions in boxes

Additional instructions, definitions, or lists of items to remember or leave out of a response can be placed into an instruction box that is inserted into the question pane to further clarify the response.

Vertically align all of the instruction boxes on a questionnaire.

Place the instruction box as close as possible to the item it applies to:

  • When the instruction relates to a question, place the instruction box between the question and the response options.
  • When the instruction relates to a particular response option, place it there.

Do not put instructions below the response options, or respondents will answer the question without reading the instruction.

Place 'don't include' and 'include' instructions in a consistent order throughout the questionnaire (eg if you put 'don't include' before 'include' in one instance, do it always). The order you place the instructions will depend on the context of the questionnaire.

All instruction boxes on a questionnaire should be the same width.

Format the instruction box with a 10 percent coloured shade and no border.

Example of an instruction box

Image, Example of an instruction box.  top

Instruction wording

Note:

Use for additional instructions or definitions. The word 'note' should always be followed by a colon.

For example

To give an indication of the types of items to be included in the response. Be aware that offering examples can make respondents more likely to only think of the examples offered, at the expense of thinking about items not given as an example.

Include

Use for questionnaires collecting business or financial data. The use of this device suggests items to include that respondents may not automatically think of when gathering information for their response.

Don't include

Use for questionnaires collecting business or financial data. This device informs respondents what they should not interpret as being required, as they are not necessary for the data needs of the question. Do not use the word 'exclude' as it can be read as 'include'.

Count

Use for social questionnaires, or a sample population that is less likely to think in business terms (eg agriculture questionnaires). Use to suggest items to include that respondents may not automatically think of when gathering information for their response.

Don't count

Use for social questionnaires, or a sample population that is less likely to think in business terms (eg agriculture questionnaires). Use for items which the respondent shouldn't interpret as being required, as they are not necessary for the data needs of the question.

When there is only one point to be made in the instruction, no colon is used and the instruction is a sentence. The word 'note' is an exception, however, and is always followed by a colon. When there are several points to be made in the instruction, include a colon and use bullet points.

Use the following wording in instruction boxes. Each is in plain text, with the exception of 'don't' which is bolded. top

Examples of instruction wording

Image, Examples of instruction wording.  top

Reminder instructions

Repeating instructions throughout the questionnaire can help to remind respondents the correct way to answer. For example, if a question with oval answer spaces ('mark ovals') is placed after a series of numeric questions, it may help to remind respondents how to mark ovals. In this situation, a bubble instruction is usually used.

The format for reminder bubble instructions is an oval shaded 10 percent of the form colour, no borders, and the same size font as questions.

If the reminder instruction refers to more than one question place the bubble, if space allows, so that it falls over two questions (see example below). This shows respondents that the instruction is general, and not specific to one question.

Reserve reminder bubbles for non-essential instructions as they can be missed by respondents. In addition, if reminder instructions are used too often they can clutter the questionnaire and respondents may either ignore the bubble, or ignore the text which the bubble is linked to.

Examples of reminder bubble instructions

Image, Examples of reminder bubble instructions.  top

Information symbol

Do not use an information symbol, because respondents tend to skip free standing instructions. Instead, incorporate instructions into the question pane (either in the question text or in an instruction box).

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