Questionnaires- Theories and Methods

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  • Questionnaires
    • Questions may be: closed-ended (limited range of answers to choose from which have been selected in advance), or open-ended where respondents are free to answer however they wish, in their own words.
    • Practical strengths: quick and cheap way to gather large amounts of data, no need to recruit and train interviews and data is easy to quantify.
    • Positivism: Take a scientific approach and believe questionnaire-based research achieves the main goals of scientific sociology.
      • Reliability: Questionnaires can be easily repeated and checked by another. Allow us to make comparisons by asking the same questions in different times or societies.
        • Representativeness: More likely to be representative because they are large scale and they use representative samples. However, this can be undermined by low response rate and if those who do return their questionnaires are different from those that don't e.g. better educated.
    • Practical limitations: data is often limited and superficial because they are brief, may be necessary to offer incentives which adds to the cost, cannot be sure if the desired person has completed it, low response rates, inflexible, only snapshots.
    • Hypothesis testing: can identify cause-and-effect relationships, can establish correlations because they yield quantitative data.
    • Detachment and objectivity: Questionnaires are very much detached e.g. postal ones, little or no personal contact between researcher and respondents.
    • Interpretivism: Seek to discover the meanings that underlie our actions and from which we construct social reality.
      • Detachment: Argue that we must use methods that involve us closely with the person we research, so we can gain a subjective understanding. Argue that questionnaires fail do to this.
      • Lying, forgetting and trying to impress: Michael Scholfield's (1965) research of the sexual behaviour of teenagers, in reply to the question 'are you a virgin?', one girl replied 'no, not yet.' May try to please, impress or second-guess the researcher.
      • Imposing the researchers meanings: Researcher has chose what is important and what is not by choosing the questions in advance. Pruning and bending of the data is inevitable- Martin Shipman (1997)


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