ADVANTAGES OF QUESTIONNAIRES
Using questionnaire for research purposes is a practical way to collect data. What you guys did when you designed and implemented your questionnaire was in fact a STRUCTURED INTERVIEW (this is essentially just a questionnaire personally conducted by the researcher). We will be covering Structured Interviews later on in the course.
Although designing the questionnaire and carrying out pilot studies may take some time, once in use questionnaires can be used to collect large quantities of data from considerable numbers of people over a relatively short period of time.
So a major advantage is that it is a speedy way of doing research – anything that saves time has got to be fandabidosy!
Thus in their study Sullivan (2001) used 465 questionnaires, pupils were sent these questionnaires in the last year of their GCSE’s, while Claire Callender and Jon Jackson in 2004 did a questionnaire of 2000 prospective Higher Education students, they found the poorest students were afraid of debt and they were 4 times less likely to go in to higher education. The British Crime Survey of 1998 used a sample of 14,947 households (Mirrlees-Black et al., 1998). Such large samples cannot be studied using more in-depth research methods without incurring prohibitive costs.
Even when questionnaires are administered by interviewers this involves relatively little personal involvement, or danger or sacrifice on the part of the researcher, when compared with some participant observation studies.
The results of questionnaire research can be relatively easily quantified, and with assistance of computers the data can be analysed quickly and efficiently.
Obviously now with the use of very high tech and spec computers, the relationships between many different variables can be examined. Many sociological and other social science researchers use the Statistical Package for Social Sciences computer programme, which can rapidly produce complex statistical analyses. So there is also special software out there for sociological researchers conducting questionnaires.
To some quantitative researchers, however, the theoretical advantages are more important than the practical ones. Although relatively few sociologists today claim to be positivists, a considerable number support the use of quantitative data on the grounds that it can be analysed more ‘scientifically’ and objectively than qualitative data.
So in a nutshell – positivist data by it’s very nature is more easily quantifiable (i.e numbers and statistics can be obtained leading to a more ‘reliable’ results.) It is considered more objective and ‘scientific’ therefore perhaps considered more valuable by the sociological community.
Quantitative data can be considered more reliable than qualitative data. Since each individual respondent answers precisely the same questions in the same order, they are all responding to the same stimuli. Any differences in response should, in theory, reflect real differences between respondents. Furthermore the figures produced can be checked by other researchers, and their reliability should therefore be high.
Only when the data are quantified by means of reliable measuring instruments can the results of different studies be directly compared. Thus studies of British elections over several decades have produced data that can be used to determine changing patterns of voting and changing social attitudes within the British electorate. Heath, Jowell and Curtice (1985, 1994) in their two studies of British elections were able to use data from their own and other election studies to reveal ideological shifts in the electorate, and to check the claim that class was becoming less important in determining voting behaviour.
From a positivist point, statistical data from questionnaires can be analysed so that new theories can be produced. More typically, however, such data are used to test existing hypotheses, since the researcher must have a reasonably clear idea of the sort of information that is important before they set the questions. Ivor Crewe (1987a) used statistical data to check his theory that housing tenure, among other factors, had an influence on voting behaviour independent of social class.
Many sociologists regard questionnaires as a suitable method for testing precise hypotheses in a rigorous manner.As has already been mentioned, questionnaire research can generally use larger samples than qualitative methods. For this reason, sociologists who have carried out a social survey tend to feel more justified in generalizing about a wider population than those who have carried out an in-depth study of a smaller number of people. This is particularly likely where a questionnaire is used in conjunction with sophisticated sampling techniques so that the researcher can be confident that the sample is representative.
Researchers into such areas of social life as poverty, voting, crime and stratification, who have carried out