A questionnaire is a list of both closed and open-ended questions formulated by a researcher with the sole purpose of collecting information from respondents. A research questionnaire is designed in such a way that the information it is expected to extract is specific. Although questionnaires are cost-effective, quick, as well as easy to administer and analyze, they have numerous drawbacks.
One of the main drawbacks of questionnaire research is that responses are difficult to probe or alter. Both the researcher and respondent are limited to what the questionnaire offers. This is because, as Coolican (2014) explains, questionnaires are standardized and highly structured thus allowing little or no flexibility. While the respondent may not be allowed by the questionnaire to elaborate on an issue or clarify a response, the researcher is not able to probe the response further thus limiting the information given. This may be made worse if only a few of the questions are open-ended since the respondent has no opportunity to qualify their responses.
Another shortcoming of questionnaires is the respondents capability to give feedback. Some respondents may not get the opportunity to respond yet they may be holding invaluable information, thus leading to low response rates, which is dangerous for scientific research (Rowley, 2014). In the contemporary setting, for instance, most questionnaires are posted online, and this means that anyone who is not connected to the internet may never get an opportunity to respond. Additionally, questionnaires sent via postal mail may be ignored or never reach the targeted audience. This is made worse by the fact that for one to respond to a questionnaire, they must be able to read and write. Therefore, some demographics, especially those comprising the uneducated poor, may not respond yet they may have information that is critical to the research topic.
Another major setback of questionnaires is the inability of the researcher to determine the emotional state of the respondent at the time of filling in the questionnaire. According to Rowley (2014), in some cases, respondents are either highly positive or negative about an issue while those who are neutral have no time for the questionnaires. This means that the information given may be rather biased since there is no personal contact between the researcher and the respondent. It may also be difficult for the researcher to determine how truthful the respondent is, and how much thought they gave to the questions. Such a drawback is sure to affect the results, particularly if the questionnaire is intended to probe a sensitive issue or attitude.
Response from the wrong person is another confounding setback to the use of questionnaires. Some targeted persons are too busy to respond to questionnaires. Although it is only natural for the researcher to assume that the targeted person is the one who fills out the questionnaire, it is not always the case (Coolican, 2014) For example, a high-ranking company official may be too busy for a business-related questionnaire thus opt to hand it to their junior to fill it out. This will definitely affect the results since the best-suited person to respond has delegated the duty to a person who may not be privy to the most crucial information.
In conclusion, although questionnaires may be cheap and easy to administer, they are cumbered with countless drawbacks. In addition to responses from the wrong persons and the limited scope of questions, the target population is limited to the literate. The researcher may also not interpret the emotional states of the respondents. Therefore, the use of questionnaires is not the most objective research instrument unless it is supplemented with others such as interviews and observations.
Rowley, J. (2014). Designing and using research questionnaires. Management Research Review, 37(3), 308-330.
Coolican, H. (2014). Research methods and statistics in psychology. Psychology Press.
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