Every research method has its advantages and disadvantages. Doctoral students and researchers are often at a loss as to which method to choose. When choosing a method (or methods) for your research you must consider the most appropriate method (or combination of methods) that would be most effective for investigating your research problem and answering your research question(s) while working within the resources at your disposal. Toward this end, this article focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires in order to help you decide which methods to use. This article is divided into two parts:
- Part One: An Introduction to Research Questionnaires
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Questionnaires
Part One: An Introduction to Research Questionnaires
Overriding Factor in Successful Questionnaires: Its Purpose
We must mention that if you ever choose to use a questionnaire as your research method, you must make sure that the entire design of the questionnaire (i.e., the wording and measures, the way the data is analyzed, and everything else in between) is aligned with the purpose of your study and your research question(s). In addition, you must make sure that each question on your questionnaire serves this purpose. You can do this by writing down exactly how each question on your survey helps answer your research question(s) and/or helps investigate your particular research problem. Otherwise, your research will be led astray.
Types of Questionnaires
In a general sense, there are two types of questionnaires based on how the questions are completed. These two types are self-report questionnaires and structured interview questionnaires.
- Self-Report Questionnaires – These questionnaires are completed without the researcher being present; respondents complete the questionnaires without any help of the researcher.
- Structured Interview Questionnaire – This is where respondents are asked to complete the questionnaires by verbally answering questions in the presence of a researcher.
Although both types of questionnaires could contain the same questions, the differences between them can be significant. For example, in one case, respondent anonymity may be considered very important and, thus, a self-report questionnaire would be more useful than a structured interview questionnaire.
Types of Questions in a Questionnaire
There are two basic types of questions on any given questionnaire that include closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.
- Closed-Ended Questions – These questions give respondents a limited choice of answers to choose from (e.g., yes/no questions, Likert scale). Moreover, these particular questions mainly generate quantitative data.
- Open-Ended Questions – These particular questions don’t provide respondents with set answers to choose from. Instead, the questions require respondents to answer in their own words. These questions mainly generate qualitative data.
Part Two: Advantages and Disadvantages of Questionnaires
Advantages of Questionnaires
- Easy to reach a large sample – With a well-designed questionnaire and distribution methods, you can reach large numbers of respondents and do it relatively quickly.
- Easy and efficient to use – Questionnaires are usually easy to distribute and are very inexpensive to create. They are also simple to code and it is easier to interpret the findings and results (especially with closed-ended questions).
- Easily standardized and replicated – With questionnaires, every respondent is asked the same set of questions and in the same way. This way, the researcher is sure that the entire sample answers the same questions. This ensures reliability. Moreover, a questionnaire can easily be replicated to compare findings across several different studies.
- High reliability – Self-report questionnaires in particular are among the most reliable methods of research because it is very simple for researchers to standardize questions. Again, with questionnaires, every single respondent answers the same exact questions. Moreover, especially with closed-ended questions, it is difficult for researchers to misinterpret the results of questionnaires, unlike qualitative research methods.
- Easy to generalize findings – Because questionnaires provide an easy way to reach large numbers of respondents, your sample size can be extremely large. A larger sample may improve the generalizability of your findings from the sample to your target population.
Disadvantages of Questionnaires
- Difficulty of examining complex issues – By its nature, the questionnaire makes it difficult for you to examine complex issues and analyze results in an in-depth manner. Even when you use open-ended questions on your questionnaire, the depth of the answers that your respondents provide tend to be more limited than just about any other method of research. Basically, you’ll be able to tell what but not why.
- Low response rates – Regarding self-report questionnaires, the response rate is usually very low within a sample. To give you an idea of what an effective response rate usually is, researchers generally aim for a 20%-25% response rate for self-report questionnaires. If you’re not careful in maximizing your response rate, your sample may not mirror your target population.
- Socially Desirable Responses (SDR) – Socially desirable responses (SDRs) are a real danger in questionnaires. This is where respondents’ answers conform to socially acceptable values to avoid being criticized or to gain approval (King & Brunner, 2000, p. 81; Huang et al., 1998). To counteract this, Social Desirability (SD) scales can be used (a discussion of this tool is reserved for a more appropriate article).
- Low validity – Questionnaires provide low validity in general. Again, they don’t provide any in-depth exploration or detail of respondent answers. Moreover, regarding closed questions, there is no ability for respondents to qualify the meanings of their answers. In addition to this, the questions chosen for a questionnaire are only those considered important by the researcher. Therefore, vital information may be missed as a result of the researcher not asking other important questions.
- Misunderstanding of questions – For self-report questionnaires, respondents may misunderstand certain questions since the researcher is not there to provide guidance and assistance.
Having trouble designing your dissertation research?
Regardless of the type and method, designing a research study is an extremely difficult and tedious process. If you’re ever at a loss with your research design or any other aspect, and if you’re not finding the help you need from your dissertation adviser or other colleagues, set up a free consultation with a dissertation consultant and get the help you need. Remember, when it comes to your dissertation, it will determine the future course of your life. Make sure it’s done right and don’t ever hesitate to ask for help. Your degree and future career may be at stake.
Huang, C., Liao, H., & Chang, S. (1998). Social desirability and the clinical self-report inventory: Methodological reconsideration. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 54(4), 517-528. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4679(199806)54:4<517::aid-jclp13>3.0.co;2-i
King, M. F., & Bruner, G. C. (2000). Social desirability bias: A neglected aspect of validity testing. Psychology and Marketing, 17(2), 79-103. doi:10.1002/(sici)1520-6793(200002)17:2<79::aid-mar2>3.0.co;2-0