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1.8.C.4 Tools of data collection- Questionnaire


A questionnaire is a set of systematically structured questions used by a researcher to get needed information from respondents. Questionnaires have been termed differently, including surveys, schedules, indexes/indicators, profiles, studies, opinionnaires, batteries, tests, checklists, scales, inventories, forms, inter alia. They are …any written instruments that present respondents with a series of questions or statements to which they are to react either by writing out their answers or selecting from among existing answers. 

The questionnaire may be self administered, posted or presented in an interview format. A questionnaire may include check lists, attitude scales, projective techniques, rating scales and a variety of other research methods. As an important research instrument and a tool for data collection, a questionnaire has its main function as measurement . It is the main data collection method in surveys and yield to quantitative data. Also, due to provision for open endedness, the instrument may be used to generate qualitative and exploratory data.

Measurement specification will depend on several factors. The nature of the population to be surveyed is the major concern. The kind of survey may be factual or analytical. If factual, then complications are less. If analytical, the survey may be hugely value laden as to reduce accuracy. However, it is possible to objectify the subjectivity by designing more complex research questions. The kind of respondents would also play a big role in determining how the survey will be conducted. For instance, there may be slight differences on how to conduct a survey with chief executives of flourishing multinational corporations, as opposed to the aged in a remote set up. Survey into phenomena that is subject to seasonal fluctuation would also vary with one that does not fluctuate.

Value laden surveys need complex questions so as to reduce biasness. Such deal with subjects like social representation, opinion, attitudes, stereotypes, awareness, brand images, precepts and values. Due to their multifaceted nature, they warrant questions that are equally multifaceted. Responses from such subjects are often influenced by the environment, and hence tentative. Findings are difficult to validate since they reflect the state of the mind at a given time in a specific environment.

Three types of data about a respondent may be accessed by use of questionnaire instrument.

  1. Factual questions: These include demographic information, socio-economic status, education, etc.
  2. Behavioural questions: deals with both past and present deeds of the respondent;
  3. Attitudinal questions: comprises of world views. It covers people’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs and values.

Elements of a Standard questionnaire

  1. Title: this identifies the domain of the investigation. The respondent is initially oriented to the investigation. It should be captivating enough to attract attention and enthusiasm.
  2. General introduction: this has a description of the purpose of study as well as the organisation(s) involved. The respondent is assured of anonymity/confidentiality of information volunteered, making clear that there are no wrong or right answers. Honest answers are also requested.
  3. Specific instructions: this offers succinct demonstration on how to carry on with the business of responding to the questionnaire.
  4. Questionnaire items: is the main part of the questionnaire schedule, to be clearly separated from the aforementioned parts.
  5. Additional information: includes the full contact information of the researcher/ administrator. May include a promise that a copy of the summary of the final report would be send to the respondent on request.
  6. “Thank you” may end the questionnaire.

Before coming up with a questionnaire, a researcher has to come up with a precise operational statement on the variables. The instruments to be used have to be well identified and variables well defined. Several considerations have to be made before designing the questions. These considerations are discussed below.


The case here is the consideration of a questionnaire. This includes a standardized formal interview, the postal, self-administered questionnaire and the group administered questionnaire. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and this should help in coming up with an appropriate one to suit a specific survey need.

Mail questionnaires and standardized interviews

A mail questionnaire is one that has been sent to a respondent by a researcher, and the respondent would answer at his own time, basing on his own understanding. It is not as controlled as with the case of a standardized interview. Mail questionnaires however have their own advantages.

  1. The researcher incurs low cost of collecting data. Just designing a questionnaire and sending it to a respondent;
  2. Analysing and processing the data is less expensive in terms of both time and material resources;
  3. There is no likelihood of interviewer bias as the interviewee would be interpreting the questions his own way;
  4. The questionnaire can be handled by a geographically distant correspondent.

A number of disadvantages abound.

  1. There is no follow-up mechanism;
  2. No control n how questions are being answered. Questions may be passed on to another person;
  3. Response rate is low;
  4. Some questions may be left unanswered;
  5. Not suitable for a low literacy society, the old, of small children;
  6. Not suitable for the visually impaired persons;
  7. No data (ratings or assessments) based on observation.

As opposed to mail questionnaires, interview schedules have a higher response rate and provide an opportunity for both the interviewer and the interviewee clarifying their points. Follow-ups are possible as ratings and assessments can be taken from observation. There may be no problem with disabled or less literate respondents. The major disadvantage is the huge time and material resources need for the purpose.

Self-administered questionnaires

Self administered questionnaires are presented to respondents, but the researcher is available to make little clarifications. He does not, however, interpret the questions for the respondents as this may increase interviewer bias. There is some degree of personal contact as the two parties would be interacting. The advantage with this is that response rate is high and clarification are made where need arises.

Group-administered questionnaires

This is presented to respondents in a group. The group may be one of students or labourers, where they are supposed to respond as a group. These questionnaires will be administered by the researcher, and may be in form of a film being shown, and then the respondents are asked questions to respond. Is such cases, the size and literacy of the group is a vital consideration. Each respondent may be required to respond, and in case of a film, it may only make the responses flow. The respondents will be answering by following a certain pattern as the film progresses. Questions may be read out aloud as respondents answer on their own.


It would be better if all questionnaires are returned, but more often this is not the case. A researcher must come up with a formula that would enable him get all questionnaires back whenever possible. There are various approaches to this.

  1. An advance warning to the respondent informing him of the study;
  2. Explain to the respondent the method of sampling used, and how this respondent came to be selected;
  3. The aspect of sponsorship is also important. This is where the researcher presents an identification card and a pamphlet from the research organisation. Alternatively, he may have a cover letter or one of introduction addressed to the respondent from an influential person of the firm;
  4. The envelope used should be as official as possible, addressed to an individual to be supplied with the questionnaire. It should have some personal touch, as opposed to being so mechanical.
  5. Create awareness of the project through publicity, where possible;
  6. Provide incentives, though not to the extent of causing bias of any kind. This incentive would influence the respondent to fill the questionnaire with objectivity and return it;
  7. Confidentiality should be assured in certain cases. Only the researcher should access all survey data. In case there is need for information about identifiable persons to be published, is should happen with express permission of the of the person in point;
  8. Reminders may serve to increase the response rates, as some respondents may not complete the questionnaire out of mere forgetting;
  9. Anonymity is another way of increasing the response rate. In such a case, the personal identification details of a respondent are not taken. The respondent may instead be identified by a code number. Alternatively, the respondent may be assured that at the data processing stage, all identifying information will be destroyed.
  10. The general appearance of the envelope and the letter would also affect the way the recipient would attend to it. The envelope should be addressed to the respondent personally, and with a stamp, not a franked one. The appearance of the letter should be conservative, and the topic should be of some interest to the respondent. It should not be wordy as this would be boring. The letter should be sent with a return envelope.


The researcher should be careful in the selection of questions to appear at the start of the questionnaire. The instrument should not start with sensitive information that may put the respondent off before he kicks off in response. The module should be arranged in a systematic way so as to flow as the respondent moves down, with the opening questions maintaining neutrality.


The funnel approach has been fronted as a good example of questionnaire design. When preceded by filter questions, the approach has been widely used, though others sequences may also be considered. The funnel method would start by asking a broad question, then narrows down to specifics. A filter would then exclude some questions from respondents, if a response would have been noted through an answer to a different question .


There are two main types of questions, open and closed. Open questions are those that afford the respondent an opportunity to speak his mind. It is more detailed with little, if any, interviewer bias. Open response may allow graphic examples, illustrative quotes, and generally provide some unanticipated data. We may fall short of imagination in the range of possible response categories thus the strength of open-ended questions. However, analysis of this data may be difficult as varied responses would have been presented. It is not advisable to have open-ended questions in a professional questionnaire . Closed questions are easier to answer, process and analyse. They are mostly ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, without provision for the respondent giving his explanation.

Open ended questions

These should be guided, however open. They may be of four kinds:

    1. Specific open questions: these ask questions anticipating factual responses. It may include the respondent’s preferences, past activities, his details, inter alia.
    2. Clarification questions: seek further elucidation after selection of a category. It may be in form of “Please specify.”
    3. Sentence completion: a respondent is asked to complete a sentence. “Democracy is practised well, however.…”
    4. Short answer questions: comprises more than a sentence, but less than a paragraph.

Types of close-ended items

  1. Likert scales: this has a statement of which a respondent is expected to rate, for instance from best to worst; or from “strongly agree,” to “strongly disagree.”
  2. Semantic differential scales: with this technique, a respondent marks in a continuum between two line adjectives or extreme ends. Summation and averaging s the same as in Likert scales. It is important not to have all the positive poles on one side. Alternating avoids position response.
  3. Numerical rating scales: involves assigning marks in an attempt to describe a feature of the target. We may calibrate a continuum from excellent to poor; always to never, inter alia. Due to its similarity to semantic differential scales, the two may be interchangeable.
  4. True-false items,
  5. Multiple choice,
  6. Rank order items: involve a list of which the respondent is asked to rank.

Strengths and weaknesses

  1. Questionnaires are highly versatile. They can be used by a variety of people, in different environments, at different times, targeting a variety of topics for analysis;
  2. Questionnaires are easy to construct and convenience to work with. May provide for anonymity to respondents, should need arise;
  3. They are cheap to undertake, both in terms of time and material resources;
  4. Data collected is easy to process as the questionnaire is straight forward;
  5. Produces superficial data, touching non comprehensively to specificity- it not good for qualitative data;
  6. Its investigations are limited owing to the short time a questionnaire is attended to (30 minutes to 1 hour);
  7. May not be suitable to an illiterate respondent.

 Advantages of Questionnaire:

(1) Economical:

It is an economical way of accumulating information. It is economical both for the sender and for the respondent in time, effort and cost. The cost of conducting the study with the help of questionnaire method is very low.

(2) Wide Coverage:

It is probably the best method to collect information, compared to the other methods like interview or observation, when the sample population is spread over a large territory. It permits a nationwide or even international coverage.

Questionnaire makes it possible to contact with many people who could not otherwise be reached. It can cover a large group at the same time.

For example, if the researcher wishes to poll the membership of the American Sociological Society, transportation costs for interviewing would be excessive, both in terms of money and time. There may not be enough time to make the necessary interview.

(3) Rapidity:

Replies may be received very quickly in questionnaire method.

(4) Suitable in Special Type of Response:

The information about certain personal, secret matters can be best obtained through questionnaire method. For example, information about sexual relationship, marital relationship, secret desires etc. can .be easily obtained by ‘keeping the names of the respondents anonymous.

(5) Repetitive Information:

Compared to other methods like schedule, interview or observation, questionnaire method is regarded as more useful and cheap, where the repetitive information has to be collected at regular interval.

(6) An Easier Method:

Questionnaire is comparatively an easier method to plan, construct and administer. It does not require much technical skill or knowledge.

(7) It Puts Less Pressure on the Respondents:

It puts less pressure on the respondents for immediate response. He can answer it at his own leisure, whereas interview or observation demands specific fixation of time and situation,

(8) Uniformity:

It helps in focusing the respondent’s attention on all the significant items. As it is administered, in a written form, its standardized instructions for recording responses ensure some uniformity. Questionnaire does not permit much of variation.

(9) Useful Preliminary Tool:

Questionnaire may be used as a preliminary tool for conducting a depth study later on by any other method.

(10) Greater Validity:

Questionnaire has some unique merits as regards validity of information. In methods like interview and observation, the reliability of responses depends on the way the investigator has recorded them. Here they may present biased or prejudiced information of their own. But in questionnaire method, the responses given by the subjects are available in their own language and version. Therefore, it cannot be wrongly interpreted by the researcher.

(11) Anonymity:

Questionnaire ensures anonymity to its respondents. The respondents have a greater confidence that they will not be identified by anybody for giving a particular view or opinion. They feel more comfortable and free to express their view in this method.

(12) Most Flexible Tool for Data Collection:

Questionnaire is no doubt the most flexible tool in collecting both quantitative and qualitative information.

Disadvantages of Questionnaire:

(1) Limited Response:

One of the major limitations of the questionnaire is that it can be applicable only to those respondents who have a considerable amount of education. It can neither be used for illiterate nor for semi-literate persons.

(2) Lack of Personal Contact:

As in case of questionnaire the researcher does not go to the field, he is not able to establish a proper personal relationship with the respondents. If the respondent fails to understand some of the technical terms or he has any doubt, there is nobody to clarify these technical terms or doubts.

(3) Poor Response:

In case of mailed questionnaire method, the proportion of return is usually low. The factors which are likely to affect the returns are: the layout of the questionnaire, its size, the organisation conducting the research work, the nature of appeal, the kind of respondents chosen for research, inducement for response etc.

(4) Unreliability:

The information collected through questionnaire cannot be said to be very much reliable or valid. If the subject misinterprets a question or gives an incomplete or indefinite response very little can be done to connect such response. As against this, in an interview there is always the possibility of rephrasing questions for further clarification.

The investigator here is not in a position to observe the gestures and expressions of the respondents. He cannot cross check the inconsistencies or misrepresentation of the replies. So in questionnaire method, reliability of responses is very low.

(5) Illegibility:

Illegible handwriting of the respondent sometimes creates much difficulty for the researcher to understand the responses. Sometimes the respondents erase and over write too much. These create many difficulties in reading the answers.

(6) Incomplete Entries:

Often most of the respondents fill up the questionnaire form very poorly. They sometimes leave out many questions altogether or fill in such a way that, it becomes very difficult on the part of the investigator to follow those responses. Other than this, there may be the problem of language, use of abbreviations and ambiguous terms etc. All these make a questionnaire an incomplete one.

(7) Possibility of Manipulated Entries:

In case of interview the investigator directly interacts with the respondents personal’ and intensively in a face to face situation. He can judge a respondent, his attitude, understanding of the research topic and, if necessary, can ask some cross questions to correct various errors.

So usually the respondent cannot manipulate his answer. But in questionnaire it is very difficult to detect the errors of the respondents. Here the investigator does not have any facility to check the validity and reliability of the information. In the absence of the researcher, the respondents may supply manipulated information.

(8) Useless in Depth-Studies:

In questionnaire method, it is not possible on the part of the researcher to conduct an intensive or in-depth study of the feelings, reactions and sentiments of the respondents. All these require a healthy interaction of the researcher with the respondents. So through questionnaire method one cannot conduct an in-depth study.

(9) Response from Improper Representative Section of People:

The respondents who return the questionnaires may not constitute a representative section of the entire group. Only mere responsible, research minded or those in favour of the issue may prefer to respond. Some of the important sections of the group may totally remain silent. This vitiates the final conclusions and findings.

(10) Lack of Rapport with the Subject:

There are many people who would not like to share any important information unless and until they are impressed about the rationale of the study and personality of the investigator. The questionnaire does not provide for any opportunity to the investigator to establish rapport with the subject and this cannot attract the respondent for a better response.

(11) Not Suitable for Delicate Issues:

Some of the research areas are so delicate, sensitive, intricate and confidential in nature that it becomes difficult to frame questions on them. It is impossible to put down certain delicate issues in writing.

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