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Examine the reasons why some sociologists choose not to use questionnaires when conducting
research. (20 minutes)
Questionnaires are criticised for being invalid, superficial and limited research method. Their
greatest flaw is that they fail to produce a fully valid picture of real dynamics of life. They merely
offer a set of questions (usually close-ended and aim to quantify these for ease of analysis.
Questionnaires are valued by positivists for allowing to establish cause and effect relationships
while interpretivist see them as the least valuable method of research.
Primarily, one of the main practical disadvantages is the low response rate. In Shere Hite's
research in 1991 on `love, passion and emotional violence the response rate was only 4.5. Given
this low figure, the excruciating importance of drawing generalisations is lost. The research is,
therefore, unrepresentative of interests of wider population.
Secondly, the questionnaires are seen as being inflexible. When the questionnaire's responses
are finalised, the researcher can see little scope for formulating new interests or ideas and
exploring them as it can be done in participant observation. Furthermore, the interviewer may
collect biased data because in standardised questions he/she already imposes interests of their
own and excludes questions that might be important to respondent.
Thirdly, where the sociologist has interpretivist perspective, detachment may seem a big barrier
to overcome. The researcher cannot observe the full picture of a sample being questioned
because he relies on responses. Apart from that, the pre-coded answers limit the chance of
clarifying certain questions and addressing misunderstandings of the respondent. This roots to
the aim of questionnaire, in addressing large scale population in order to draw generalisations;
the concept of individuality is lost. Where the questionnaire is open-ended (respondent may
express attitudes and views) the researcher will have to lump non-familiar answers into one
category. It will, thus, be more difficult to analyse and quantify information in order to find
correlations between variables.
In conclusion, questionnaires fail to express changing attitudes or social actors' values and
beliefs due to being snapshots of particular moment when the respondent answers the