Advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires
This article aims to identify and explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires. Questionnaires are often used by researchers in quantitative research as they are understood to be very useful to collect large amounts of data from a large sample of people.
However, questionnaires are not without some limitations. It is, therefore, important for researchers to examine their advantages and disadvantages before deciding whether they should use this instrument in their research or not.
Definition of questionnaire
According to Cambridge Dictionary (2023), a questionnaire is a list of questions that several people are asked so that information can be collected about something.
A questionnaire is a research instrument that researchers use to ask the research respondents certain questions. Responses can then be organised and displayed with charts, tables etc.
A questionnaire may take different forms; however, it is generally characterised by several traits including a focus on asking people questions in a standardised manner, the use of a standardised set of questions, and the use of standardised methods of data analysis.
According to Pew Research Center (2023) a questionnaire is like a conversation which should be arranged by topic and progress in a logical order. By asking simple questions, researchers can make it useful, comfortable, interesting, and engaging for the respondents.
Advantages of questionnaires
There are several advantages that researchers may consider while selecting a questionnaire as their preferred data collection tool. They are as follows:
A questionnaire is easy to conduct and surely, large amounts of information can be obtained from a large number of respondents. Questionnaires are also cost-effective when the researchers aim to target a large population.
Broad coverage: Local, national, and international respondents can be easily reached by a questionnaire. The Internet and particularly, social media have made it easy to reach out to respondents afar.
One of the main advantages of questionnaires is that the responses received are frank and anonymous. Unlike interviews, questionnaires are good for sensitive & ego-related questions.
Carrying out research with questionnaires is less time consuming and respondents can fill in questionnaires at a convenient time as well.
Questionnaires usually provide the researchers with quantitative data. Quantitative information can be used to prove or disprove existing hypotheses. The results of the questionnaires can also be easily quantified by researchers either manually or through the use of software packages such as SPSS.
Disadvantages of questionnaires
There are a number of disadvantages of questionnaires that discourage researchers to select a questionnaire as their preferred data collection tool. They are as follows:
No clarification for ambiguous questions. Many experts argue that questionnaires are inadequate to understand human behavior, attitude, feelings etc. Likewise, a questionnaire may sometimes be too cluttered and too long.
Questionnaires are more rigid than interviews. Unless the researcher leaves a space for the interviewee to write the answers, the respondent can only select from the range of answers the researcher has provided (The Open University, 2023).
Likewise, inadequate motivation to respond is a problem. Unattractive style and format of questionnaires may put some respondents off.
According to NBRI (2022) poorly designed questionnaires usually do not take into consideration the needs of people with physical and mental limitations or people who are from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Some questions may be poorly worded, while some others may be very direct. These questions are not useful to obtain good information. Many researchers also argue that questionnaires lack validity as they yield information without explanation.
Low response rate as questionnaires may not simply be suitable for some respondents. Likewise, if the researchers decide to use a postal questionnaire, many people may decline to respond.
Many questions may be interpreted by respondents in ways the researchers did not intend resulting in irrelevant data. Likewise, it is also difficult for a researcher to say how truthful the respondents were.
Types of questionnaires
There are usually two types of questionnaires i.e. closed and open-ended. ‘Closed’ questions restrict the responses that research participants can provide. ‘Open-ended’ questions allow them to express and explain their feelings about the topic being studied.
An example of a closed/structured question is as follows:
- With whom are you travelling on this flight?
- No one
- Spouse and children
An example of an open-ended/unstructured question is as follow?
- What steps are required, you think, to improve the quality of living standard in a developing country?
Tips for writing good questions
Researchers should use language that is familiar and comfortable for their respondents. They should avoid using too many industry-specific terms or advanced vocabulary. Instead, using language that their respondents understand is very useful.
Researchers should avoid leading questions. A leading question is one that suggests a particular answer. For example, “You enjoy shopping at Tesco, don’t you?” suggests that everyone enjoys shopping at Tesco. Instead, researchers should ask neutral questions that do not suggest a particular response.
Asking relevant questions is extremely important. Before developing the questionnaire, researchers need to review their research aims and objectives to make sure that they are not asking questions that are irrelevant.
Researchers should ask themselves why they are conducting the research, what they hope to learn, and how the research will help them achieve their goals. This will keep them focused which should result in the development of a very good questionnaire.
Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires
A questionnaire is a useful data collection tool when the researchers need to ask the same questions to a large number of people. While it is easy to use, it can be less accurate and useful than other methods.
To avoid the potential pitfalls, researchers need to make sure that the use of language is comfortable for the respondents, and they avoid leading questions. They should also provide simple questions at the beginning.
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Last update: 06 January 2023
Cambridge Dictionary (2023) Questionnaire, available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/questionnaire (accessed 06 January 2023)
NBRI (2022) Is it possible to overcome the effects of a poorly designed survey questionnaire? Available at: https://www.nbrii.com/customer-survey-white-papers/is-it-possible-to-overcome-the-effects-of-a-poorly-designed-questionnaire/ (accessed 21 June 2022)
Pew Research Center (2023) Writing survey questions, available at: https://www.pewresearch.org/our-methods/u-s-surveys/writing-survey-questions/ (accessed 06 January 2023)
The Open University (2023) Postgraduate study skills, available at: https://help.open.ac.uk/using-a-questionnaire (accessed 05 January 2023)
Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.