Research Methods in Education

By Louis Cohen; Lawrence Manion et al. | Go to book overview

14

Questionnaires
The field of questionnaire design is vast, and this chapter is intended to provide a straightforward introduction to its key elements, indicating the main issues to be addressed, some important problematical considerations and how they can be resolved. The chapter follows a sequence in designing a questionnaire that, it is hoped, will be useful for researchers. The sequence is:

ethical issues;

approaching the planning of a questionnaire;

operationalizing the questionnaire;

structured, semi-structured and unstructured

questionnaires;

avoiding pitfalls in question writing;

dichotomous questions;

multiple choice questions;

rank ordering;

rating scales;

open-ended questions;

asking sensitive questions;

sequencing the questions;

questionnaires containing few verbal items;

the layout of the questionnaire;

covering letters/sheets and follow-up letters;

piloting the questionnaire;

practical considerations in questionnaire design;

postal questionnaires;

processing questionnaire data.

It is suggested that the researcher may find it useful to work through these issues in sequence, though, clearly, a degree of recursion is desirable. The questionnaire is a widely used and useful instrument for collecting survey information, providing structured, often numerical data, being able to be administered without the presence of the researcher, and often being comparatively straightforward to analyze (Wilson and McLean, 1994). 1 These attractions have to be counterbalanced by the time taken to develop, pilot and refine the questionnaire, by the possible unsophistication and limited scope of the data that are collected, and from the likely limited flexibility of response, though, as Wilson and McLean (ibid.: 3) observe, this can frequently be an attraction. The researcher will have to judge the appropriateness of using a questionnaire for data collection, and, if so, what kind of questionnaire it will be.
Ethical issues
The questionnaire will always be an intrusion into the life of the respondent, be it in terms of time taken to complete the questionnaire, the level of threat or sensitivity of the questions, or the possible invasion of privacy. Questionnaire respondents are not passive data providers for researchers; they are subjects not objects of research. There are several sequiturs that flow from this. Respondents cannot be coerced into completing a questionnaire. They might be strongly encouraged, but the decision whether to become involved and when to withdraw from the research is entirely theirs. Their involvement in the research is likely to be a function of:
their informed consent (see Chapter 2 on the ethics of educational research);
their rights to withdraw at any stage or not

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