Structured Or Semi-Structured Questionnaire?

Philip Cleave
March 10, 2023
Man filling out an online questionnaire

Whether you’re looking to gather insight about a specific topic and back this up with statistically supportive data, or your research is more exploratory in nature. Whatever it is you’re looking to find out, the questions you ask in your questionnaire will be critical to the insight you get back and the direction you choose to move in next.

However, it’s worth mentioning at this point where the questionnaire fits in to the wider research environment alongside online surveys.

Essentially your questionnaire contains the questions that you’re looking to ask participants, which forms part of your wider survey. And it’s the survey that involves the wider process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting that data, which could include any audience ranging from a sample demographic of the general public to a cross-section of your customers or employees.

However, for the intents and purposes of this blog piece we will be focusing on questionnaires, and more specifically on structured and semi-structured questionnaires. The reason for this is that there are distinctive differences between the two questionnaire types, which lend themselves to different research approaches. So, it’s useful to know this before you start reaching out to respondents.

Read on to find out more about each questionnaire type including their advantages and disadvantages, so you can be better informed about the most suitable questionnaire to use for your next research project.

What is a structured questionnaire?

The structured questionnaire is a document that is used to collect data from respondents.

This questionnaire type consists of standardized closed questions, that are worded in a specific way, asked in a set sequence and require respondents to choose from a set of predefined answers.

When set up correctly, they can enable a large volume of data to be gathered quickly and can provide a really good top-level snapshot of that audience’s views, that can be used to support a hypothesis or to inform crucial business decisions.

The structured questionnaire is typically used for market or social research inquiries.

Advantages and disadvantages of structured questionnaires

Depending on your research and what you’re looking to find out, it can be helpful at this point to know the advantages and disadvantages of using this questionnaire type, so you can identify if it’s best for your needs.

This becomes even more important if an interviewer is going to administer your questions to respondents, and will therefore need a certain level of structure or flexibility in their survey process, depending on what they’re looking to achieve.

So, here are some advantages and limitations you need to think about for a structured questionnaire:


  • It’s relatively simple and quick to complete and quantify
  • It can be conducted easily and efficiently by interviewers
  • It does not rely on the development of rapport between the interviewer and the respondents answering
  • The quantitative nature of this questionnaire means it’s possible to make assumptions based on the data it generates, which can be used to support decision making


  • A respondent is forced to choose between several alternative answers, which can compromise the actual results of the entire group and the final results analysis.
  • The problem with closed questions is that they don’t consider the varied values, viewpoints and attitudes of respondents
  • Even if there is scope for the interviewer to delve deeper when communicating with respondents, they can’t do this, as they have to follow a predetermined question list

What is a semi-structured questionnaire?

The semi-structured questionnaire is also a document that can be used to collect data feedback from respondents. However, unlike the structured questionnaire , which only uses closed questions, the semi-structured questionnaire includes open-ended questions too, so that both quantitative and qualitative information can be gathered.

While the semi-structured questionnaire includes some predefined questions, it also allows an interviewer to administer some of their own questions that have not been planned in advance. Subsequently, this can enable a more fluid conversation that gives the interviewer the option to explore particular themes or responses in more depth, if they hear anything they feel could further benefit their research.

Advantages and disadvantages of semi-structured questionnaires

Similar to the structured questionnaire, it can be prudent to check out the benefits and drawbacks of semi-structured questionnaires, to ensure they’re the best approach for your research before you start it.

Here are some things to consider if you’re planning on administering this type of questionnaire to your respondents:


  • It’s ideal when the research being carried out needs to accommodate a large range of different respondent viewpoints
  • With this approach, respondents have the freedom to fully express their opinions and views
  • Interviewers have the flexibility to delve deeper, if they hear anything interesting that they want a respondent to elaborate on
  • This approach can provide reliable and comparable qualitative data


  • Due to its unstructured approach, where respondents have more opportunity to express their views, this questionnaire type is not so effective for use in larger groups, as it would make it more difficult to maintain control and keep sessions to their time limits
  • To get maximum value, semi-structured questionnaires rely on the quality of the interviewer, who needs to be able to think on their feet and ask further relevant questions where necessary, otherwise the results will be more limited
  • Unlike with structured questionnaires, the feedback can be more complex and time-consuming to analyze

General tips to improve your questionnaire

While there will be some advantages and limitations with whatever questionnaire type you choose, there are some general tips that can help improve your questionnaire design, regardless of whether it’s a structured or semi-structured questionnaire you decide to use for your next piece of research.

Keep your questionnaire to a sensible length

Irrespective of whether you’re conducting quantitative or qualitative research, it’s important to keep your questionnaire to a sensible length, if you’re to fully maintain the engagement of your respondents and ensure they reach your final question

Maintain variety in your question types

From dichotomous and multiple-choice questions to rating and ranking questions. When it comes to your closed survey questions, there’s a lot of different question types you can use to mix up your questionnaire and prevent respondents from getting bored.

Keep it accessible

With estimates suggesting that up to 2 million people in the UK have some form of sight loss or visual impairment, you could be missing out on a lot of responses if you’ve not made your questionnaire as easy as possible to view and read. Accessibility compliance is also mandatory for those working in specific industries such as the government and public sector.

Therefore, it makes good business sense to ensure that any questionnaire platform you use has built-in accessibility options to help you comply to this.

In conclusion: structured vs semi-structured questionnaire

When it comes to your research the questions you ask in your questionnaire are one of the most crucial elements, as without the insight it provides you have no clear idea about how you should move forward next.

Therefore, it’s essential that you not only choose the right questionnaire type to support your research, but also check that each question you’ve included supports your objectives and will help deliver the results you set out to achieve.

Maximize the performance of your questionnaire

While choosing the right questionnaire type is vital for your research, you also need the tools to create the best questionnaire possible, distribute it and collect and analyze your feedback data. And that relies on finding the best software to do the job.

Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.