Pros & Cons of Using Questionnaires to Gather Project Data
written by: N Nayab
• edited by: Ronda Bowen
• updated: 4/30/2011
Questionnaires rank amongst the most popular tools for data collection. The use of questionnaires however, like all other methods of data collection has its shares of advantages and disadvantages.
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Contemplating This Data Gathering Method?
Questionnaires as data collection tool provide both the researcher and the responder with many advantages. Disadvantages of questionnaires however also stem from the same factors that provide the advantage. A review of the pros ande cons of questionnaires highlight questionnaires as an instrument that allows standardization, ease of use, and anonymity. All these factors however also become the basis for major disadvantages.
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The biggest advantage of using questionnaires for data collection is standardization. Questionnaires not only allow researchers to ask the same questions in the same order to all respondents, but also make tabulation and comparison of answers easy and consistent. Such standardization eliminates bias and allows objective collection of answers.
The standardization and removal of bias however come with the limitations on flexibility.
Questionnaires do not allow asking follow-up questions or further probing based on the given answer, which may be critical for the research. Similarly, questionnaires do not encourage respondents to contribute anything extra than what is asked for, when some respondents may have some crucial information very relevant for the research, but overlooked by the question setter. Open-ended questionnaires that allow only a yes-no answer or points ranking does not allow the responder to explain points. At times, providing a certain rating might be conditional, or the responder might wish to highlight a significant exception to the general score.
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The popularity of questionnaires as data collection tool is largely owing to its ease of use, and flexibility.
Researchers can disseminate questionnaires to all respondents simultaneously, allowing for fast collection of data and much reduced effort than, say, interviewing the respondents one by one. Researchers also find compiling and analyzing the data from questionnaires much easier than doing the same from most other methods.
Respondents find answering questionnaires easy and convenient. The absence of the researcher waiting to write down answers and ask the next question allows respondents time to think and answer, resulting in high quality of response.
Such advantages however also lay the ground for some disadvantages. Most people do not take questionnaires, especially anonymous questionnaires seriously, and remain reluctant to spend time filling it up, when the same people would readily agree to an interactive interview. Many respondents tend to answer questionnaires superficially, without much thought, especially if the questionnaire is long.
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Questionnaires allow anonymity. In many surveys, honest answers depend on the extent to which the respondents feel the data remain confidential. Questionnaires without respondent names or location traces remain the best way to ensure such anonymity, with even the researcher not knowing the respondent identity.
Questionnaires also have an impersonal touch, as the researcher does not directly interact with the interviewee. This non-intrusive nature of questionnaires has its advantages for sensitive or controversial topics, in that the respondent feels free to make bold answers without embarrassment or fear or reprisal.
Such anonymity however also has a direct disadvantage in that the interviewer misses gestures, visual cues and subtle hints, which may be major sources of interpreting answers correctly. This lack of visual cues affects questionnaires that elicit sensitive issues or attitudes more than questionnaire that elects information.
The anonymity or non-interactive nature of questionnaire leads to increased chances of misunderstanding or miscommunication, as the respondents may interpret a question differently than what the researcher intended, with no chance to seek clarification or make amends.
Finally, the researcher has no way to ascertain whether the intended respondent or someone else completed the questionnaire.
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A review of the advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires suggests that the effectiveness of administering questionnaires as a tool for data collection depends on the nature of research, the type of respondents, and the nature of data required. The success of questionnaire as data collection tool depends on proper design and a scientific basis of preparation that allows the researcher to leverage the advantage and reduce the disadvantages.
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Aberdeen University. “Questionnaires. Some Advantages and Disadvantages.” http://www.icbl.hw.ac.uk/ltdi/cookbook/info_questionnaires/printable.pdf Retrieved April 21, 2011.
StatPac. “Disadvantages of Written Questionnaires.” http://www.statpac.com/surveys/disadvantages.htm. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
University of Surrey. "The advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires." http://bit.ly/dXywKi. Retrieved April 21, 2011.