questionnaire as the main instrument in survey research
In this chapter, we focus on the questionnaire as the main instrument in survey research. We start by discussing the foundation of all questionnaires–the question.
We then look at the content of questions; differentiate between open-ended, closed-ended, and contingency-type questions; and analyze their format and sequencing.
Next, we explore possible biases in the wording of questions, as well as leading, double-barreled, and threatening questions. Finally, we give important pointers on
the cover letter accompanying the questionnaire and the instructions included in it.
Based upon their reading and careful consideration of Chapter 11, students should:
1. Be familiar with the major considerations involved in formulating questions: content, structure, format, and sequence. 2. Be able to discuss the ways in which
questions can be utilized to elicit factual information, opinions, and attitudes from respondents. 3. Be able to distinguish among and discuss the three types of
question structures: open ended, closed ended, and contingency. 4. Be able to discuss the various formats utilized to ask questions for different research purposes.
5. Understand the importance of question sequencing in a questionnaire. 6. Be familiar with the pitfalls in questionnaire construction. 7. Be familiar with the
characteristics of the cover letter and relevant instructions for questionnaire completion by respondents.
The foundation of all questionnaires is the question. The major considerations involved in formulating questions are content, structure, format, and sequence.
Content of Questions
Most questions can be classified into two general categories. Factual questions are designed to elicit objective information from respondents regarding their
background, their environment, their habits, and so forth. The most common type of factual question is the background question. Opinion questions explore
respondents’ opinions (specific expressions of underlying
Chapter 11 Notes
attitudes) and attitudes (general orientations). Survey questions about opinions and attitudes present more problems in construction than questions about facts,
partly because the former are more sensitive to changes in wording, emphasis, and sequence.
Types of Questions
Three types of question structures can be distinguished. Closed ended questions offer respondents a set of answers from which they are asked to choose the one that
most closely represents their views. These questions are easy to ask and quick to be answered; they require no writing by either respondent or interviewer, and their
analysis is straightforward. Their major drawback is that they may introduce bias, either by forcing respondents to choose from given alternatives or by making
respondents select alternatives that might not have otherwise occurred to them. Open ended questions are not followed by any kind of specified choice, and
respondents’ answers are recorded in full; they are flexible, have possibilities of depth, enable interviewers to clear up misunderstandings, and encourage rapport.
However, they are difficult to answer and still more difficult to analyze. Contingency questions reflect a special case of closed ended questions; they apply only
to a subgroup of respondents. Relevance of such questions to a particular subgroup is determined by a preceding filter question.
There are different techniques for structuring the response categories of closed ended questions. One of the most common of these formats is the rating scale, used
whenever respondents are asked to make a judgment in terms of sets of ordered categories. Such scales measure the intensity of feelings toward something. The matrix
question is a method for organizing a large set of rating questions that have the same response categories. Ranking is used in questionnaires whenever researchers
want to obtain information regarding the degree of importance or the priorities that people assign to a set of attitudes or objects.
Sequence of Questions
Two general patterns of question sequence have been found to be most appropriate for motivating respondents to cooperate. In the funnel sequence, each successive
question is related to the previous question, and the questions get progressively narrower in scope. In the inverted funnel sequence, narrower questions are followed
by broader ones.
Chapter 11 Notes
Avoiding Bias: Pitfalls in Questionnaire Construction
Questions must be worded so that they are comprehended by respondents. A number of important factors must be taken into consideration: A response set is the
tendency to answer all questions in a specific direction regardless of the question’s content. Leading questions are those that are phrased in such a manner that it
appears to respondents that the researcher expects a particular answer. Threatening questions are those that respondents may find embarrassing and therefore
difficult to answer. It has been determined that the reporting of certain behaviors decreases as questions increase in their degree of threat. Double barreled
questions include two or more questions in one, and this poses a problem if respondents feel differently about the issues involved.
A cover letter must succeed in overcoming any resistance or prejudice that respondents may have against the survey. This document should: 1) identify the sponsoring
organization and/or the persons conducting the study; 2) explain the purpose of the study; 3) tell why it is important that respondents answer the questionnaire; and
4) assure respondents that the information provided will be held in strict confidence.
Instructions should be included at the beginning of questionnaires and should accompany any questions that are not self explanatory.
To assist you in familiarizing yourself with the Key Terms, imagine a series of “short answer” questions that ask you to define each term in your own words, using the
text’s discussion as a guide.
attitude (231) closed ended question (233) contingency question (235) double barreled question (242) factual question (231) filter question (235) leading question
(241) matrix question (237) open ended question (233) opinion (232)
Chapter 11 Notes
quantifiers (237) question (230) ranking (238) rating (236) response bias (242) response set (240) threatening question (241)
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