Stages of questionnaire design
Ethical issues of questionnaire research
Questionnaire studies are a valuable tool for the research psychologist. Although they don't permit a researcher to look at things in much depth, they do make it possible to collect information from very large numbers of people - far more than could reasonably be studied using experimental or observational research designs.
One of the most useful ways that questionnaire-type studies are applied in psychology is when a completely new area of research is being opened up. It is not at all uncommon for someone who is interested in a new area to begin by conducting a questionnaire study about it, and then to use the results of that study to generate hypotheses which can then be investigated by more in-depth research.
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Questionnaires are also used when psychologists want to investigate how widespread a phenomenon is. For example, when a research team wanted to investigate just how common the experience of nightmares was, the obvious way to go about it was to conduct a questionnaire study, asking about sleepwalking, sleeptalking, nightmares, and other dream-related experiences. The questionnaire study allowed them to gain an idea of how widespread these experiences were, and what proportion of the population was likely to have them.
That doesn't mean, however, that questionnaires can be used to research every topic in psychology. Questionnaires are very vulnerable to response bias – to people adjusting their responses so as to give the 'right' sort of answer to the researcher. Because of that, they need to be carefully planned and designed. But if that is done properly, they can provide useful information - of certain types. Table 5.1 outlines some of the main types of information which can be gained from questionnaires.
Questionnaires can collect factual information, such as information about people's habits, their depth of knowledge on particular issues, or immediate sources of stress. They can also be used to tell us about past behaviour: patterns of domestic behaviour, educational or work