Essay on Questionnaire Method of Data Collection

The increasing use of schedules and questionnaires is probably due to increased emphasis by social scientists on quantitative measure­ment of uniformly accumulated data.

A questionnaire is a tool for data collection. It consists of a number of questions printed or typed in a definite order on a form or a set of forms. It is administered to a respondent either person­ally or through mail. The respondent answers the questions on his own without being aided.

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Questionnaires are now widely used collecting data, particularly when data are to be collected from a large number of people who are scattered over a wide area. They are used both as indepen­dent and separate method of collecting data. They are also used as an additional device to check data gathered through observation and personal interview.

Definition of Questionnaire:

1. “A questionnaire is a means of gathering information by having the respondents fill in answers to printed questions” —Wallace and Wallace.

2. “Fundamentally, the questionnaire is a set of stimuli to which literate people are exposed in order to observe their verbal behaviour under these stimuli —Lundberg.

3. Good and Hatte define questionnaire as a device for securing answers to questions using a form which the respondent fills in himself

4. Questionnaire studies are systematic ways of asking questions under scientific controls. A questionnaire is a device in which the respondents fill in their responses in specified manner personally.

Questionnaire, Schedule and the Interview Guide:

The questionnaire is designed to collect data from large, diverse and widely scattered groups of people. The questionnaire is generally sent through the mail to the informants to be answered as specified in a covering letter and without further assistance from the sender. The schedule, on the other hand, is generally filled out by the researcher who can interpret questions when necessary.

Questionnaire:

The word “Questionnaire” refers to a device for securing answers to questions by using a form which the respondent fills in himself.

Schedule or Interview Schedule:

“Schedule” or “interview schedule” is the name usually applied to a set of questions which are asked and filled in by an interviewer in a face-to-face situation with another person. In its form and content, a schedule is similar to the questionnaire. Like the questionnaire, it can be structured and unstructured. As in questionnaire, here also the wording of the questions is the same for all the respondents.

The main difference between the questionnaire and schedule is that— the questionnaire is filled in by the respondent on his own, whereas the schedule is filled in by the interviewer.

Interview Guide:

An ‘ interview guide’ on the other hand, is a list of points or topics which the interviewer must cover during the interview. In this case, flexibility may be allowed as to the manner, order and language in which the interviewer asks the questions. The interview guides are also referred to “unstructured questionnaires.” The interview guide permits the interviewer to ask a fresh question in order to make the previous answer more meaningful.

Ways of Obtaining Response through the Questionnaire Method:

There are two ways through which the responses of the informants could be collected. Re­sponses of the informants could be collected through questionnaire method (i) by mailing the ques­tionnaires to the selected people under study, or (ii) by asking the questions to them directly in an interview. Mailed questionnaires have some advantage over interviews, including saving money and time, convenience to the respondents who can reply at will.

There is greater assurance for them that the respondents will remain anonymous; and that questions will not be put in various tricky ways; and that the respondents are not biased by the interviewer. Further there is greater chance for the respondents to find time to consult other sources before responding. There is greater ease of access to the people who are widely separated geographically.

Types of Questionnaire:

Questionnaires can be classified into two broad types:

(i) Structured Questionnaires, and

(ii) Unstructured Questionnaires.

i. Structured Questionnaires:

Structured questionnaires are those which pose definite, concrete and prepared questions. It means the questions are prepared in advance and not constructed on the spot during the questioning period. Additional questions may be used only when need or inadequate replies by informants. These structured questionnaires may be of two broad types:

(a) Closed-Form or Poll Type or Selective Type Questionnaire, and

(b) Open-End or Inventive Type Questionnaire.

(a) Closed-Form Questionnaire. In closed-form questionnaire, a number of alternative an­swers are provided at the end of each question and the task is, the informant has to choose one of them.

This is also called “Poll-Type “or “Selective-Type” of questionnaire for the informant has to select one among the answers supplied by the investigator himself. His choice of giving his own answer is not permitted and hence it is a “closed-type”. “Example: Where do you wish to live in? (1) City, (2) Suburb, (3) Village?

(b) Open-End Type or Inventive Type. In this type, questions are not followed by any reedy- made answers. The informant has to think of the answer himself and he is free to answer as he likes. The open-end responses are free and spontaneous expressions on the part of the informant who is not limited in his replies to a particular question posed to him. This is also called “inventive type” for the respondent has to think of or invent the answer for himself.

The respondent may be asked to write a descriptive essay and express his viewpoints, describe his relationships, attitudes, indicate his prob­lems, and report on details and events without restrictions imposed as in the type of closed questions

Structured questionnaires are used in a wide range of projects which may pertain to studies of economic or social problems, measurement of public opinion on public issues or events, studies of administrative policies, studies on cost of living, consumer expenditures, child welfare, public health and numerous other issues.

In the “closed-form” questions, the responses may be easily tabulated and statistical measures can be easily applied, because, the number of possible answers to each question is fixed.

Its disad­vantage is that it may often suggest answers that may not be there in the mind of the informant. This may defeat the very purpose of the study. Another defect is, the informant has to confine his answers to the points given in the questionnaire itself. He cannot go out of it and express his true opinion on a particular issue.

The merit of the “open-end” type is that it gives wide chance to the informant to give his own answer to the questions. He is not bound by rules and can be free. Its demerit is that it poses some problems of classification and analysis. But this open-end question has been employed successfully where the primary information to be collected is qualitative in nature.

(ii) Unstructured Questionnaires:

Unstructured questionnaires, frequently referred to as “interview guides”, also aim at precision and contain definite subject-matter areas. Flexibility is its main advantage. It is designed to obtain view—points, opinions, attitudes, and to show relationships and interconnections between data which might escape notice under more mechanical types of interrogation.

The object is to give the respon­dent maximum opportunity to reveal how he had arrived at or developed his world of experience. Free responses of the respondents are solicited and no limitations are imposed and no predetermined responses are provided.

This form of questionnaire is used for intensive studies, but generally for a limited number of selected cases. It has been applied to studies of family group cohesiveness, to studies of personal experiences, beliefs and attitudes. The chief disadvantage of unstructured questionnaires stems from the danger that non—additive and non—comparable data will be accumulated when no structuring is imposed.

Formation or Construction of a Questionnaire:

The effectiveness of questionnaire as a tool of obtaining information also depends on the con­struction or formation of a questionnaire. It is not an easy task to prepare a good questionnaire. Hence attention must be paid to the following aspects in preparing a questionnaire.

1. Physical Format:

The physical format of a good questionnaire must be such that it must evoke spontaneous interest from respondents.

2. Question Content:

Questions must be specific and unambiguous and seek responses on a definite topic.

3. Question Wording:

The wording of the questions and the language used must be simple, direct and unambiguous. Questions and key words carrying dual meaning must be avoided.

4. Question Sequence:

Questions in a questionnaire must be ordered in a definite sequence.

In addition to these, the following suggestions may also be considered in preparing and using the questionnaire.

Main points to be noted in Preparing and Using the Questionnaire:

1. Any questionnaire must be limited in its length and scope. In interviews especially the ques­tionnaire should not require more than 30 minutes to be completed.

2. When the questioner and the interviewee possess a more detailed experience with the subject of the inquiry, many questions become unnecessary and can be avoided.

3. The questioner should try to know as much as possible about his subject-matter before he begins to formulate questions.

4. Sufficient care should be taken to include all the important questions on the subject. Each and every item of the questionnaire must be relevant and related with central problem.

5. There must be logical connection between the questions and they can be thought of as moving from the inside to outward.

6. Care must be taken to avoid ambiguous, too personal and embarrassing questions.

7. Care must be taken to ask questions which include all the possible alternatives on a particu­lar issue at study.

8. Wordings of the questionnaire should b simple, and unambiguous.

9. Liker’s Scale [or Five Point Scale] can be made use of when “yes” or “no” answer cannot be given to a question. This includes five points or responses to a question among which one can be accepted by the respondent:

(i) I strongly approve.

(ii) I approve.

(iii) I am undecided.

(iv) I disapprove.

(v) I strongly disapprove.

10. Further, there must be a unity in the construction of a questionnaire or schedule. The ques­tions should be so designed to awaken the interest of the respondent and must proceed from simplic­ity to complexity. Embarrassing questions should be avoided and the personal information should not be sought. The questions should proceed from one frame of reference to another instead of jumping back and forth.