The questionnaire method of data collection involves mailing a list of questions (called a questionnaire) to the respondents either via post or email. A written explanation is also provided regarding the aims and objectives of the study being conducted in order to encourage the respondents to fill out and return the questionnaire on time. We now list out some of the major merits and limitations of this method of data collection.
Advantages of the Questionnaire Method:
1. Saves Time of the Researchers
The questionnaire method is the most time-saving method when trying to collect primary data. This is because the researchers do not need to physically conduct face to face interviews of the respondents (such as when conducting surveys). The researchers only need to take out some time to mail the questions. The respondents can then fill out and return the forms in due course of time.
2. Less expenditure
The researcher needs to spend very little money to collect data via a questionnaire. In case the researcher is sending the questionnaire via post, only the postal fees need to be paid. If the researcher is sending an email, then the data collection can be done practically free of cost.
3. Requires less Manpower
When conducting a survey, a lot of manpower is required because the researcher needs to hire people to conduct face to face interviews. This is not the case for the questionnaire method. The questionnaire method only needs some people who can organize and interpret the collected data.
4. No Personal Bias
When oral interviews are conducted, it has been observed that the respondents might sometimes be subtly led to answer according to the personal bias of the investigator. This element of personal bias is completely eliminated by sending questionnaires because the respondents fill out the answers on their own. Hence such answers will be more authentic and accurate.
5. Data can be collected over a Large Area
Suppose you want to study the eating habits of people living in a particular city. Asking people in person would be impractical and it would be impossible to cover the entire population of the city. Here, we can widen our area of investigation by simply sending questions via mail and requesting people to respond.
6. Ideal Method for Respondents who are Introverted
Some people are introverted and hold back from giving their true opinion to other people. Such people are much more likely to give honest answers when they are asked to write them down.
7. Identity of Respondents is Protected
If people are asked questions about controversial issues they may be reluctant to state their views. Therefore whenever a questionnaire is sent out, the respondents are assured that their identities will be protected. Since the respondents provide answers anonymously their responses are much more likely to be truthful.
8. Data Obtained is Simple to Interpret
The questions asked in a questionnaire are usually YES/NO type of questions where only a few responses are possible. It is very easy for the researcher to organize and interpret such simple kinds of data.
Disadvantages of the Questionnaire Method:
1. Low degree of Reliability:
Some people may be careless when filling out the questionnaire and the data so collected may not be completely accurate. Thus the data obtained cannot be said to be completely reliable.
2. Respondents must be Literate:
This is the main drawback of the questionnaire method. For example, when conducting a study of people living in a remote village in India it is highly probable that the residents of the village may not be literate. If the respondents are not literate they will not be able to read the questions or provide answers.
3. Non Response
Many people on receiving the questionnaire might simply ignore it or decline to provide answers simply because they may not be interested. The respondents might not have the motivation to take out some time to fill out the answers carefully. If the rate of non-response is high then it will introduce errors in the study
4. Reluctance to provide Personal Information:
People may be hesitant to provide a written record of information such as their income and personal habits. This can happen even if the people are assured that the data will be anonymized and their identities protected.
5. Incomplete Answers:
Many people when filling out the questionnaire do not provide answers to all the questions. They might answer some questions and leave other questions blank. Sometimes the answers provided may be vague or hard to interpret. Such responses then become unuseable.
6. Bias/Untruthfullness of Respondents:
Some respondents might choose to deliberately provide incorrect information when providing answers. The researcher has no way to cross-check or verify whether the responses are accurate. The researcher is completely dependent on the hope that respondents respond truthfully.
7. Only Simple Minded Questions can be Asked:
Since the questions asked in a questionnaire are usually YES/NO type of questions there is no scope for nuance. It is much better to conduct personalized interviews to know about a person’s views on nuanced topics. It is much easier to understand a person’s emotions and thoughts in a personalized setting.