Questionnaires are used by researchers when they need to “collect information from large numbers of people” (citied in 5 Questionnaire Studies).
Questionnaires allow researchers to use quantitative methods to collect large sources of data, researching “wide spread phenomena” (citied in Questionnaire studies).
The researcher has autonomy over the design of the questionnaire which is specific to the aims and objectives of the research. Questionnaires are designed to target specific groups (age, gender, ethnicity, social class etc) to “elicit information from people” (citied in questionnaire studies, pg 71). Questionnaires are used to collect “factual information” (citied in questionnaire studies) this may include:
“ Facts and knowledge, past behaviour, likely future behaviour, motives, opinions and attitudes ” (citied in Staged of Questionnaire Design, table 5.1, pg 71).
A researcher who has “designed a good questionnaire (pg 71) should be able to explore their topic. That the format would allow for individual responses “expect people to want to respond in unpredictable ways” (cities in questionnaire studies) however the collective results should allow the researcher to make generalisations.
The researcher who designs a questionnaire that uses mostly `closed questions` may use statistical analysis to analyse the findings. Findings are “easy to score and analyse” (citied in questionnaire studies).
They may present the findings in form of Bar Charts, Pie charts or percentages. This form of reporting results often viewed as scientific and results considered validated.
Questionnaires that are carried out with hundreds/thousands of participants can be both economical in time and costs.
For instance as a Careers Adviser working in a mainstream secondary school, if I wanted to explore How year 11 students made their post 16 Option choices ? I have a choice as to how to carry out this questionnaire.
I could email all year 11 students asking them to complete the questionnaire and return as an emailed attachment. This would save my time (as face to face interview is not required) and paper.
I can track the progress and sent reminder emails if questionnaires have not been returned.
I could give out paper questionnaires and ask tutors to get all students to complete during tutor time, this would ensure all students completed the questionnaire and returned to the tutor. Of course this does raise the question concerning participation choice rather than coercion.
Telephone interviews can be used however these can be very time consuming and costly.
Postal questionnaires have also been used. A benefit is that researcher is not required to administer the questionnaire however heresiarch findings have shown that this is not a very successful method as only 20-30 % complete and return the questionnaires. It can also be very expensive for paper, envelopes, stamps and SAE. If researcher used this method as only method for research a lack of respondents could question the validity of findings. Also may not be significant enough to make generalisations.
As a Masters student I would not use a questionnaire as the main research method as the results are factual and do not provide in-depth interpretations of the findings. However I might use a questionnaire with a large group as a process of identifying a smaller “representative sample” (who are prepared to participate) for a qualitative study.
This could also avoid `participant bias`, which could occur if I were to ask school for participants for my research. May be a risk that school chose participants (maybe gifted and talented, highly motivated, from specific social class) who school know will actively participate however they may not be a `representative sample `.
An advantage of a questionnaire is that it can be piloted with members of the sample group which would highlight any design faults. “ If anyone has to ask you a question while they fill in the questionnaire it needs to be re-written” (citied in questionnaire studies pg 78). This can save the researcher a lot of time. It can also ensure that the results/findings can be analysed
There is a risk that questionnaires that are carried out without the supervision/researcher administering that questions can be open to misinterpretation. Researcher not available to clarify questions.
There is also a risk that questionnaires that are emailed, posted, handed out so not allow for different levels of literacy. The purpose of the questionnaire is to target a particular group a “representative sample”. “ A representative sample should be representative of the population from which it comes” (citied in questionnaire studies, pg 83).
As a Careers Adviser in a main stream secondary school. If I were to email a questionnaire to all year 11 students. There would be a group of students with high levels of literacy who could interpret and answer the questions however there would also be a group who may have low levels of literacy, literacy learning difficulties, Dyslexia etc. This group may misinterpret the questions, may be intimidated by the questions and either not answer specific questions(questionnaire becomes invalid) or not attempt the questionnaire. Not only does this raise the question concerning the validity of the results but also how `representative ` are the findings !
The questionnaire article also raised concerns about the design format. That a good design format should have questions that follow on from each other in some context. Previous research has shown that a poorly designed questionnaire, where this is not evident can alter the findings “different sequences can produce different results” (citied in designing questionnaires, pg 78). Raises the question how validated are the results ?
The questionnaire design is at risk of “researcher bias” (citied in questionnaire studies). The researcher may use closed questions which restrict the answers of the participants. The participants may not agree with either response but feel obliged to chose an answer. Which raise the question how validated are the results ? Are the findings a true reflection of public opinion ?
Questionnaires that use `open questions` are considered to be “more representative of subjects true opinions” (citied in questionnaire studies) which allow the researcher to interpret and place responses in context. However questionnaires that use open questions can be time consuming to interpret. If the researcher has over one hundred questions to interpret this will take considerable time.
Questionnaires are also at risk of `response bias`. That respondents give responses that they think the researcher wants. This could be particularly prevalent if the participant knows the researcher !
There is also the risk in an educational setting that students are not given a choice as to whether they want to participate, rather they are coerced.
There is an ethical issue in relation to confidentiality for participants who take part in questionnaires that use `open questions`. Particularly if questionnaires are carried out within institutions. There is a risk when the researcher interprets the data that comments/quotes from participants can be recognised.