With questionnaires, the questions are presented in written format and the respondents write their answers. There are several positive features of using questionnaires. First, they are generally less costly than interviews. They also allow the respondent to be completely anonymous as long as no identifying information (e.g., name, Social Security number, or driver’s license number) is asked. However, questionnaires require that the respondents be able to read and understand the questions. In addition, many people find it boring to sit by themselves reading questions and then providing answers; thus, a problem of motivation may arise. Questionnaires can be administered in person to groups or individuals, through the mail, on the Internet, and with other technologies.
Personal administration to groups or individuals Often researchers are able to distribute questionnaires to groups of individuals. This might be a college class, parents attending a school meeting, people attending a new employee orientation, or students waiting for an appointment with an advisor. An advantage of this approach is that you have a captive audience that is likely to complete the questionnaire once they start it. Also, the researcher is present so people can ask questions if necessary.
Mail surveys Surveys can be mailed to individuals at a home or business address. This is a very inexpensive way of contacting the people who were selected for the sample. However, the mail format is a drawback because of potentially low response rates: The questionnaire can easily be placed aside and forgotten among all the other tasks that people must attend to at home and work. Even if people start to fill out the questionnaire, something may happen Page 144to distract them, or they may become bored and simply throw the form in the trash. Some of the methods for increasing response rates are described later in this chapter. Another drawback is that no one is present to help if the person becomes confused or has a question about something.
Online surveys Online surveys are increasingly being used by academic researchers (Buchanan & Hvizdak, 2009). It is very easy to design a questionnaire for online administration using one of several online survey software services. Both open- and closed-ended questions can be included. After the questionnaire is completed, the responses are immediately available to the researcher. One of the first problems to consider is how to sample people—how does the researcher provide people with a link to the online survey? Major polling organizations have built databases of people interested in participating in surveys. Online survey software services have mailing lists that can be purchased. There are online special interest groups for people with a particular illness or of a particular age that may allow the researcher to post a recruitment message. One concern about online data collection is whether the results will be similar to what might be found using traditional methods. One particular issue is related to response rates (the percentage of people that are asked to complete a survey that actually complete a survey). One study found that online surveys had an 11% lower response rate than other strategies (Manfreda, Bosnjak, Berzelak, Haas, & Vehovar, 2008). This could directly impact the validity of the data generated by such a survey.
Relatedly, another problem with Internet data is the inherent ambiguity about the characteristics of the individuals providing information for the study. To meet ethical guidelines, the researcher will usually state that only persons 18 years of age or older are eligible; yet how is that controlled? People may also misrepresent their age, gender, or ethnicity. We simply do not know if this is a major problem. However, for most research topics it is unlikely that people will go to the trouble of misrepresenting themselves on the Internet to a greater extent than they would with any other method of collecting data. The ethical issues of Internet research are described in detail by Kraut et al. (2004), Buchanan and Hvizdak (2009), and Buchanan and Williams (2010).