Newspaper Questionnaires

What We've Found

Newspaper questionnaires can reach a large, broader-based audience, an audience that might not otherwise pay attention. Of the newspaper questionnaires we have seen, the ones that are most effective ask only a few, specific questions and present clear, concise information about a project or resource. Keep in mind the overall objectives: to reach people with information about your project and to let them know you care what they think.

Just the Facts

Newspaper questionnaires are unscientific opinion polls. Still, they can raise awareness about a project or resource and give people a chance to have input into a process they might not have otherwise.

The questionnaire can be used to gather people’s opinions about the most significant cultural, natural, and scenic resources in their community; about community issues; or about the level of interest for the highway project. Responses can help form the basis for designing a more detailed professional survey.

A questionnaire can also have as one of its main purposes to gather names and addresses of people interested in serving on a Citizens Advisory Group or to be included on a mailing or email list. Open-ended questions can be used to get quotes to be used in other publications.

It is important to remember that the questionnaire is reaching only a self-selected audience of subscribers, not a random one. Consider publishing the questionnaire in other groups’ newsletters or creating a poster that has a pocket for questionnaires to reach more people who may not read the newspaper.

How To Do It

1. Determine the purpose
Why is the questionnaire being done? What information is desired? What message needs to be conveyed? The more specific the purpose, the better structure for writing questions and the text that accompanies them. This is the time to also decide exactly how the information will be used, who will compile it, and to start contacting newspaper publishers or newsletter editors about publishing it.

2. Design it
Designing good survey questions is not easy! Keeping in mind the purpose and that there should be only a few questions. Multiple-choice questions are easier to compile and less intimidating for respondents. Do allow for one open-ended question or a place for people to write their own comments.

Write a paragraph or two that states very clearly who is asking the questions and why, how the information will be used, and how the results will be published or where the results can be obtained. Then show the draft to others who have not worked on it. Ask their opinions about the clarity of both the questions and the background information. Verify that the answers are going to meet the purpose: a question whose answer is of no use is a waste of everybody’s time. Revise as necessary.

There should also be clear instructions on how to submit the survey and a deadline. Include a contact name and phone number for people who have questions or want more information. Give return options including the address for mailing the completed questionnaire, a fax number, or even an email address.

3. Use the results
As the responses come in, start counting. Type answers to open-ended questions and general comments submitted; these comments can become possible testimonials for use in brochures, pamphlets, etc. Enter names and addresses into a mailing list database if that information is included. Write a report, publish a pamphlet, post results on a website or whatever method was decided upon before the survey began. Be sure to also issue a press release summarizing the results to let people know they were heard.



An inclusion in a regularly produced publication that both asks for information from readers and gives information to readers.

Use It If...
  • You want some quick feedback and want to attract people to your project or your cause.
  • You have a good community weekly newspaper with which you want to establish an ongoing relationship.
  • You have the financial resources to pay for advertising space. Then design the questionnaire as a full- or half-page advertisement.
Forget It If...
  • You want scientific data that statistically reflects the opinions of an entire community. Consider undertaking a formal survey instead.
  • There is no local newspaper that targets the area under question. If the distribution is too wide, there may be questionable results because people are not familiar with the area or resource and/or you will have a small return as people do not see how it affects them.


Timing is Everything

Publish a newspaper questionnaire in the beginning of a project to get information or in the middle of a project to gauge reactions to proposals.

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