Questionnaires: Procedures and Factors
It is almost impossible to grow up and function in modern society without being asked to complete a questionnaire or respond to interviews on a fairly regular basis. As students of the social sciences, you are regularly asked to accept interpretations of social, political or economic behaviour that derive from questionnaire or interview survey data.
To be able to fully participate in the academic community, it is necessary to understand how such surveys are conducted and the techniques and conditions of interpretation of survey data.
2. What is a
Questionnaire surveys are a form of research which depend on the frankness of the subjects' responses. They need to be designed and carried out carefully so that they provide a genuine reflection of the attitudes and beliefs of a group of people.
Pitfalls to avoid
It is well known, for example, that respondents tend to agree with questions, whether they are positively or negatively constructed:
People tend to provide an affirmative, agreeing response to whichever option is given. Overcoming the desire to present a positive image requires a subtle approach on the part of the questioner.
A word of caution
This Academic Grammar program uses authentic and textbook examples to alert you to the most important factors to consider in questionnaire design.
research question or hypothesis
Inexperienced researchers are often tempted to rush into formulating survey questions without first having defined the overall research question. This mistake is apparent only after the survey, when the collected responses are found to be unusable, incomplete or even incoherent.
What is a problem?
The more difficult problems are those which are really problematic situations. This refers to a set of conditions which is unsatisfactory, whose underlying causes are what need identifying if a practical solution is to be found.
Here is a medical example:
4. Type and size of
Beware of the cliche random sampling - pure random sampling is rare, expensive and very difficult to guarantee. More usual at this (HKU student) level is accidental or systematic non-random sampling, where you might stand in the foyer of a building and end up with a sample of those students who agree to be interviewed.
Type of population
In the case of the first EAC project, the subject and the population are well matched. University students are well-qualified to express opinions on the subject, and, an additional bonus, there are fewer risks of misunderstanding or misinterpreting the questions (scroll down to take a look at them).
It is well known that a lot of claims about human behaviour and attitudes are based on research conducted with either students or female homemakers, because of their easy availability: one close to the site of most research - universities, and the other as the easiest accessible population in the field.
Size of sample
Another factor determining sample size is the degree of precision or number of variables you want to test. These factors account for variation in response:
If you intend to divide up your sample based on sex or age differences, then you need to calculate sample size in terms of the smallest sub-division of your population. This means a sample of four girls and twenty-four boys is not representative of variability according to sex.
In the past, Social Science students have compiled questionnaires which have ignored vital differences even within a small, focused population.
For example, the question: Which Faculty? Is not as revealing as asking respondents about:
5. Terms and concepts
Take a project on the Medium of Instruction in H.K.. schools. What do you mean by
Will all your respondents, even in an exclusively university-educated population, understand the same thing by these terms?
This is a clear illustration of the way in which terms may be constructed differently by people who seem to share the same background, experience and situation.
structure and response options
Each type has advantages:
Within the closed question range, there is are a number of response options, from the simple Yes/No choice to the so-called Likert 5-point scale (Strongly agree--> Strongly disagree) or the cafeteria-style checklist, offering a range of options for selection.
Examples of these, and a description of the advantages of the various formats, are included in Chapter 10 of M. Youngman. Designing Questionnaires (1978).
A good questionnaire should create a feeling of importance in the respondent, a feeling that the research is relevant, and that cooperation is vital.
Here are some specific things to avoid:
8. Layout and design
9. Measuring concepts
For example, on attitudes to L1-medium schooling:
Such tensions are common if an investigation is on a rich, problematic issue with no easy answers or positions, people exhibiting paradoxical positions, and so on.
processing and analysis
It is important to think ahead to this phase when you are constructing your questionnaire and numbering and coding the questions. Keep each response as a discrete item, separately numbered; this certainly makes computerised analysis and sorting much easier.
You are strongly advised to explore Windows options for handling data and representing them in graphic form.
11. Presenting your data
Graphs and tables
Verbal exploitation of graphics
Percentages vs. absolute figures
Rank ordering responses
Which of the following looks easier to process?:
With experience, you should develop an understanding of how you want to present the data, and this will help you with the design of the questionnaire. It is important to think ahead and plan through to the interpretation stage before actually constructing your questionnaire.
Using a computer will not improve the quality of your data, but it will enhance the clarity of your presentation.
and discussing your findings
This means that the language you use needs to carry the tentativeness or assertiveness to reflect the strength or weakness of the claim.
For example, you can talk of supporting or tending to confirm a hypothesis. Also, be careful about claiming changes in opinion on the basis of a single survey (for example, people increasingly believe...).
In terms of the broader implications of your findings, you need to consider, and discuss carefully how they relate to the broader questions you started out with. What do your local population's responses contribute to the wider debate?
In an investigative project, this will feature the full mirroring of the literature review in the introduction.
For example, on the medium of instruction issue, you would be expected to return to the question of whether or not local (student?) opinion tended to support the mother tongue medium protagonists in Hong Kong as a whole.
This is part of the hourglass pattern, of moving back from
You ultimately want to ask yourself where your findings fit into the big picture.
Note: A video: The Investigative Project is available in