Closed or Structured Questionnaires are a quantitative method of research, which was advocated by Emile Durkheim(1858 – 1917). It is a positivist research method. It includes the low level of involvement of the researcher and high number of respondents (the individuals who answer the questions).
A questionnaire is a series of questions asked to individuals to obtain statistically useful information about a given topic. When properly constructed and responsibly administered, questionnaires become a vital instrument by which statements can be made about specific groups or people or entire populations.
Questionnaires are frequently used in quantitative marketing research and social research. They are a valuable method of collecting a wide range of information from a large number of individuals, often referred to as respondents. Adequate questionnaire construction is critical to the success of a survey. Inappropriate questions, incorrect ordering of questions, incorrect scaling, or bad questionnaire format can make the survey valueless, as it may not accurately reflect the views and opinions of the participants. A useful method for checking a questionnaire and making sure it is accurately capturing the intended information is to pretest among a smaller subset of target respondents.
Types of questionnaires:
• Postal questionnaire-mailed to respondents with a stamped envelope for return to the researcher. It provides an inexpensive way of gathering data, especially if respondents are dispersed over a large geographical area.
• Telephone questionnaire-Asking questions over the telephone. This is often done by market research firms or marketing departments of companies, but is not usually regarded as satisfactory by sociologists.
• Electronic questionnaire-administering questions by e-mail. Geoff Payne and Judy Payne (2004) suggest that this may be useful way of contacting dispersed groups of people, or those who might not wish to be questioned face-to-face.
• Personally Administered – it provides:
• Questions can be more detailed, as opposed to the limits of paper or telephones.
• Rapport with respondents.
• High response rate.
• Usually a convenience (vs. a statistical) sample so you cannot generalize your results.
Types of questions:
1.Contingency questions – A question that is answered only if the respondent gives a particular response to a previous question. This avoids asking questions of people that do not apply to them (for example, asking men if they have ever been pregnant).
2.Matrix questions – Identical response categories are assigned to multiple questions. The questions are placed one under the other, forming a matrix with response categories along the top and a list of questions down the side. This is an efficient use of page space and respondents’ time.
3.Closed ended questions – Respondents’ answers are limited to a fixed set of responses. Most scales are closed ended. Other types of closed ended questions include:
Yes/no questions – The respondent answers with a “yes" or a “no".
Multiple choice – The respondent has several option from which to choose.
Scaled questions – Responses are graded on a continuum (example : rate the appearance of the product on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most preferred appearance). Examples of types of scales include the Likert scale, semantic differential scale, and rank-order scale (See scale for a complete list of scaling techniques).
4.Open ended questions – No options or predefined categories are suggested. The respondent supplies their own answer without being constrained by a fixed set of possible responses. Examples of types of open ended questions include:
• Completely unstructured – For example, “What is your opinion of questionnaires?"
• Word association – Words are presented and the respondent mentions the first word that comes to mind.
• Sentence completion – Respondents complete an incomplete sentence. For example, “The most important consideration in my decision to buy a new house is . . ."
• Story completion – Respondents complete an incomplete story.
• Picture completion – Respondents fill in an empty conversation balloon.
• Thematic apperception test – Respondents explain a picture or make up a story about what they think is happening in the picture.
Advantages of a structured questionnaire:
1. The researcher is able to contact large numbers of people quickly, easily and efficiently using a postal questionnaire.
2. Questionnaires are relatively quick and easy to create, code and interpret (especially if closed questions are used).
3. A questionnaire is easy to standardise. For example, every respondent is asked the same question in the same way. The researcher, therefore, can be sure that everyone in the sample answers exactly the same questions, which makes this a very reliable method of research.
4. Questionnaires can be used to explore potentially embarrassing areas (such as sexual and criminalmatters) more easily than other methods.
Disadvantages of a structured questionnaire:
1. The format of questionnaire design makes it difficult for the researcher to examine complex issues and opinions.
2. With a postal questionnaire, the researcher can never be certain the person to whom the questionnaire is sent actually fills it in.
3. Where the researcher is not present, it’s always difficult to know whether or not a respondent hasunderstood a question properly.
4. The researcher has to hope the questions asked mean the same to all the respondents as they do to the researcher.
5. The response rate (that is, the number of questionnaires that are actually returned to the researcher)tends to be very low for postal questionnaires.
Questionnaire design is a long process that demands careful attention. A questionnaire is a powerful evaluation tool and should not be taken lightly. Design begins with an understanding of the capabilities of a questionnaire and how they can help your research. If it is determined that a questionnaire is to be used, the greatest care goes into the planning of the objectives. Questionnaires are like any scientific experiment. One does not collect data and then see if they found something interesting. One forms a hypothesis and an experiment that will help prove or disprove the hypothesis.
Validity and reliability of questionnaires:
• Questionnaires generally have low validity because they don’t explore questions in any detail or depth. Complex issues – requiring a respondent to explain their reasons for believing something – are difficult to explore.
• Where closed questions are used the respondent is restricted to answers using categories provided by the researcher – there is little opportunity to qualify the meaning of answers. Similarly, the questions asked are, by definition, those considered important by the researcher. It is easy, therefore, to miss important information because you fail to ask appropriate questions.
• However, the fact postal questionnaires can be anonymous means respondents may be encouraged to answer questions truthfully in the knowledge they cannot be identified. This may increase the validity of their responses.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex