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How and Why do Sociologists use Questionnaires?

A questionnaire

is a tool for measuring attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes that people hold towards issues, topics and other people. Attitudes and opinions cannot be observed and therefore questionnaires can be very useful to allow people to give their own opinions about some issue.

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Why are questionnaires used to collect data?

There are several reasons why questionnaires are popular with sociologists:

1. Questionnaires can be used to test theoretical ideas. e.g. boys wash less than girls.

2. Statistics can be produced and analysed thus making sociology more ‘scientific’

3. Generalisation from the sample can take place

4. Standardisation of questions allow for measurement and comparison between responses

5. Findings can be replicated (repeated)

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Types of questions open/closed

Individuals might answer a series of yes/no questions or might produce a great deal of information about what the person thinks orf eels. Questions can be open or closed, be answered face-to-face,by post or even by telephone.

• Closed questions

require a yes/no or agree/disagree answer.For example, “Would you vote for this candidate?”


Closed questions produce quantitative data.

• Open questions

lead to more detailed, individual answers.For example, “What roles do you think males and females should perform in the home?”

Open questions produce qualitative data

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Advantages of questionnaires

  • Large numbers of people can be tested this way.
  • It is an inexpensive and quick method.
  • It is an effective measure as it can produce (a) quantitative data (numbers) or (b) qualitative data (statements of feelings/ thoughts).
  • A lack of face-to-face contact with a researcher can provide honest answers.
  • The questions asked are standardised and therefore a questionnaire can be replicated to check for reliability. This means that a second sociologist can repeat the questionnaire to check for reliability. Therefore, a second sociologist can repeat the questionnaire to check that the results are consistent. If the results are consistent then they can be seen as reliable or accurate
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Disadvantages of questionnaires

  • Questions are set by the sociologist and so might ‘impose’ their biases onto the research.The questions used might simplify important issues by reducing thoughts and feelings to a ‘tick box’ answer.
  • People might interpret the same question differently; one person’s ‘strongly agree’ might be very different to another’s.
  • Unambiguous questions are difficult to devise. This leads to bias, which can lead a participant in a response or cause offence.
  • A socially desirable response may be given. Anonymity can help in avoiding this.
  • Participants may join in because they have a special interest in the topic of research. This is another source of bias and can constitute a “self-selected” sample. For generalising the research, the type of sample of participants selected is most important.
  • There may be low rates of return when the questionnaire is given or posted to participants.
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