Seek and You Shall Receive

by Laura A. Davis, MA on May 01, 2006


Learn more from your members through carefully crafted questionnaires.

Do you often wonder what your members think about your facility and its services? Ask them. Questionnaires are a valuable resource for obtaining feedback, and they need not be developed through fancy software programs or by expensive marketing research professionals. Quality questionnaires can be developed right in your office.

Well-written, appropriately designed questionnaires provide you with necessary information for decision making. They serve you with the information you need to develop the facility your members want, and they do it in a simple and easily understood manner. They are also convenient for your members to complete.

Once you have mastered the art of developing effective questionnaires, you will discover their value in every aspect of your business. You can survey your general membership or target individuals who use specific services, such as personal fitness training, group fitness classes or childcare. You can also seek data from specific populations within your club, such as seniors or youth.

Six Steps

In its final form, each questionnaire will be straightforward and easily understood by your respondents, but the development process requires directed consideration, organization and preparation. Adapted from the text of Marketing Research Essentials, written by Carl McDaniel and Roger Gates (Wiley 2003), the following six steps will help you write an effective questionnaire:

1. Determine an Objective. Before anything else, define the purpose of the questionnaire you plan to develop. “You must know what you are going to do with the information before writing the questions,” advises Daniel A. Rascher, PhD, director of academic programs and associate professor in the sport management program at the University of San Francisco. “You always want to work backward.” Considering the members from whom you want to garner data and using membership counts, determine a realistic number of completed questionnaires you want to receive and honestly evaluate the information they can provide. Based on that information, write an objective. Compose a straightforward sentence, using the format of “what you hope to learn from whom.” Beware of exceedingly broad objectives, as these can mute the feedback you receive—one well-defined objective per questionnaire is most effective. Also beware of objectives focusing only on small segments of your membership; the responses you get may be too few to be useful.

2. Determine the Question Format. Decide on the best way to ask your questions, bearing in mind that you want to provoke responses that will provide the most useful information possible. Questions may be open-ended, closed-ended or in scaled-response format. Open-ended questions seek information from respondents in their own words. Closed-ended questions offer options from which respondents can choose. Scaled-response questions measure the intensity of a response with options along a continuum. Rascher evaluates the question formats: “I didn’t used to like open-ended, but I have realized over the years that there is a lot to learn from simply letting someone write their mind. Closed-ended are clean, but limited. Scaled questions are very good because you can correlate and cross-tab or contingency-table them against other questions.” You may wish to use just one type of question, or combine all three, based on what will best meet your objective.

3. Determine the Wording. Tailor the wording of your questions, with your objective in mind, to fit the chosen formats. The wording should be clear and unbiased, using simple everyday expressions appropriate for the intended respondents and for the information you seek. Write for your members, providing necessary information and being careful not to alienate or offend them with the wording or the questions’ implications. In drafting your questions, consider both the ability and the willingness of your respondents to answer effectively. Do not let your wording guide the responses, and avoid questions that seek more than a single piece of information. Craft your questions carefully; word choice will affect the data you receive.

4. Establish the Order and Layout. Determine the sequence of the questions you drafted, considering the flow of the questionnaire and the overall page layout. Include your objective as the statement of purpose at the top of the page, and print precise instructions in capital letters. Build interest and commitment to the objective at the start of the questionnaire, to motivate respondents to complete what they begin. Ask general questions first; these should be simple, interesting and nonthreatening. Continue with more difficult questions and ones that take more work. Conclude with questions that are sensitive or that ask for demographic information.

With your basic question order determined, consider overall page layout. Design your questionnaire to be pleasing to the eye, keeping adequate white space and using colors and font types to guide and grab attention, but not to offend. If the layout is perceived as cluttered or distasteful, potential respondents may have a negative attitude toward the questionnaire or decline to complete it altogether.

5. Evaluate the First Draft. With your first draft completed, evaluate the questionnaire and revise it appropriately before proceeding. Consider the necessity of each question. If a question does not enhance your ability to achieve the stated objective, take it out. Assess your word choice and question formatting for simplicity and suitability. Evaluate the question order, and if necessary, revise it to follow the sequence suggested above. Consider the area provided for answering questions, especially open-ended ones; make sure respondents have adequate space for complete and honest replies. Look at the overall layout, and adapt it to be pleasing to the eye. Evaluate the length. Do not exceed one page, as respondents may not bother with multiple-page questionnaires. While assessing the first draft of your questionnaire, keep your objective in mind; everything should add to your ability to achieve it.

6. Pretest and Revise the Document. After evaluating and modifying your first draft, seek approval as necessary from superiors, and pretest the questionnaire with managers and peers. “Writers always see in a question what they want to see, so you need an objective read,” Rascher explains. Ask others to complete the questionnaire, and get feedback on all aspects of it, including the clarity, wording, format and sequencing of questions. Have pretesters assess the questions’ sensitivity and the time required to complete the questionnaire. Ask about any confusing aspects or questions that may have come up. Get feedback on the overall length, the layout and the visual presentation. Assess the questionnaire’s ability to achieve the stated objective. Once you have collected feedback on your first draft, you can improve it. Repeat pretesting and revising until you have a final draft that you are satisfied will achieve your objective, and you are ready to implement the questionnaire.


Once your precisely crafted questionnaire is written, it’s time to collect data. When and how you collect it will affect the information you receive. When planning the implementation phase, consider timing, distribution, collection and analysis.

Timing. The concept of timing includes both the date on which the questionnaire is distributed and the length of time after distribution during which the questionnaire will be collected. When assessing the best time to introduce your questionnaire to respondents, consider their activities outside of the facility and how their schedule might be consumed by holidays, school sessions, travel or weather conditions. Also allow adequate time to collect the desired number of completed questionnaires, considering the frequency with which respondents attend the club or use the services in question.

Distribution. First think how you want to distribute the questionnaire: via paper and pencil at the facility, via e-mail or regular mail, or on the club’s website. Whichever method you choose, be sure you make it convenient for members to respond. If you place hard copies within your facility, provide writing implements, adequate space to complete the questionnaire, and a location for returning the forms. If you choose e-mail, include an easily recognized subject line and be prepared for the return e-mails. If you opt for traditional mail services, include a return envelope and design the questionnaire to stand out among other mail. If you post the instrument on your website, have a plan for marketing the questionnaire to members.

While all four methods of distribution offer viable options, for many facilities, questionnaires located within the club will garner the most response. “Find situations when people have time to burn,” suggests Rascher, “like waiting in line at an event”; waiting for a class to begin; or between sets in the weight room. Your members will be more focused on your facility and services when they are there—and will therefore be more likely to take the time to provide their input.

Analysis. Establish a timeline for distribution, collection and analysis of your responses. After you have collected the questionnaires, compile the results. To interpret the data easily, plug it into a spreadsheet or chart it in some other format. Assess whether you have obtained the information needed to meet your objective, and be sure to relay the results back to the members who took the time to complete your questionnaire. Also let them know what you plan to do with the data.


With precisely crafted questionnaires, you can gain valuable insights from your members. Their feedback will provide direction for making decisions about the future of your club—a great starting place toward building the ideal fitness facility and increasing exercise participation.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 18, Issue 3

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© 2006 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Laura A. Davis, MA

Laura A. Davis, MA IDEA Author/Presenter