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‘Examine the Reasons Why Some Sociologists Choose Not to Use Questionnaires When Conducting Research.’

In: Social Issues

Submitted By Cassidy95
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A questionnaire is a list of a research or survey questions asked to respondents, and designed to extract quantitative date. Questionnaires are easily distributed to the community and can be completed and collected on the spot or be emailed or posted back to the researcher. Self completed questionnaires are the most common survey as they are cheap and can be passed to a lot of people. Some sociologists tend not to use questionnaires because of their low response rate and lack of validity. Also, some people may give false information so some researchers like to stick to interviews and experiments for increased accuracy. I will explore why sociologists shy away from using questionnaires.

Positivists favour questionnaires because they achieve the main positivist goals of reliability, generalisability and representativeness. However, questionnaires present a range of practical disadvantages that damage the reliability. Hites study of ‘Love, passion and emotional violence’ is an example of how these questionnaires have a low response rate. Hites sent out 100,000 questionnaires to Americans, only 4.5% were returned, merely 4,500 people. The major problem with this is that the people who have a lot more time on their hands, such as the unemployed or socially isolated, will return them, and the full-time working people will not have time to fill it out, so the researcher will only get a minimal perspective on the society he’s viewing. A higher response rate could be achieved if follow-up questionnaires are sent out or if the researcher collects them in person, but this is time consuming and costs more money. In today’s technologically advanced world, researchers can send out questionnaires in the email which is very handy for all people as they can sit from their own home and fill out the questionnaire and email it back. Another reason for a low response could be the time it takes to fill out a survey. Townsend sent out a 39 page long questionnaire. If a sociologist needs this much information they sometimes give a motive, like win a prize or a ballot- but this again will increase the cost of the project. All these reasons could make sociologists avoid questionnaires as they have low response rates and could be misinterpreted.

Sociologists may not choose questionnaires because they are a detached method of research, this means the researcher cannot be certain whether the respondent fully understands the question. Interpretivist sociologists such as Cicourel argue that data from questionnaires lack validity and do not give a true picture of what is being studied because of the detachment between the two parties. Interpretivists use qualitive methods of research and attach to the respondents, such as Willis’s in-depth ethnography study of working class lads, he followed them in their own environment and studied them, and this is far from attached, he discovered data that he could have never found in a questionnaire, this is adopted from Webers verstehen approach. So, with questionnaires there is virtually no contact between respondent and researcher, so the lack of effort or truth put into the questionnaire is jeopardised. Sociologists may also turn away from questionnaire because the respondents may not always give full or truthful answers. The respondents could be embarrassed or shy and not out real answers down. Also, they don’t know who is going to see this questionnaire or what is going to be used so they may shy away from more personal information. Kinsey used a method of interview rather than a questionnaire to study sexual behaviour, asking his questions in a rapid manner and observe whether the respondent is lying or not, this information would not have been possible to obtain in a questionnaire.

A valid method is one that give a true picture of the peoples meaning and experiences, yet interpretivists argue that questionnaires are more likely to impose the researchers own meanings than to reveal those of the respondent. When a researcher chooses a question he automatically has decided that that is an important question and what is not. If researchers use close-ended questions, respondents cant include all the data they have to offer and have to fit their views into the question asked, if they use open ended questions the respondents have a chance to put all their meanings down, this could be more time consuming for collecting the date after. Shipman says when the researchers categories are not the respondents categories ‘pruning and bending’ is inevitable. He determines questionnaires as straitjackets and undermines the validity of the data. Another way of getting a true picture of the respondent is through triangulation- the use of 3 or more methods to achieve the same or similar results, it can be achieved through quantitative and qualitative data which makes it more reliable, questionnaires can be used adequately. In conclusion, it is clear that there are a lot of reasons as to why some sociologists choose not to use questionnaires when carrying out research. Some of the main reasons are the fact that questionnaires are almost always met with a very low response rate, the potential for the respondents to not understand the question, the respondents to give false or unjustified answers. Interpretivists argument illustrates how questionnaires can produce limited data. Therefore, researchers will opt for more qualitative research such as participant observation or interviews; these allow researchers to gather more relevant data and observe the respondent when they give there answers so they can tell if they’re giving false information or not- which increase the validity. So we can concur that although questionnaires may not be the most valid or reliable method it can be useful as a method of triangulation- among other methods.

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