Different methods of delivering questionnaires

Some initial considerations
Interview methods
Self administered
Increasing the likelihood of completion

In the section, 'Surveys - different methods and instruments', we looked at different ways of administering surveys - by post, by telephone, by personal interview etc. Here, we will look again at these methods, from the point of view of their effect on the structure of the questionnaire.

Some initial considerations

Nicolaos Synodinos, in an article 'The "art" of questionnaire construction: some important considerations for manufacturing studies' (Integrated Manufacturing Systems, 14:3, 2003) describes several factors which need to be taken into account in deciding the most appropriate survey administration method:

  • what the objectives of the study are
  • who the target group is and its geographical distribution (if the sample is very dispersed, then personally administering the survey may not be practicable, whereas if you are doing a survey which involves homeless people, it may be the best method)
  • the types of questions - questions with a highly visual content, or many complex alternatives, may not be suitable for the telephone
  • the available resources - if someone is available to administer the questionnaire, this may help ensure completion, but the cost may be greater; it is important however that cost considerations do not outweigh those of quality
  • cultural factors - when doing multi-national studies, what may be appropriate and reasonable in one culture may not be in another

While all surveys are self reporting, some are administered by interviews and others are self administered.

Interview methods

Here we are considering structured interviews, with a schedule of questions that has already been worked out in a pre-defined instrument, as opposed to semi-structured interviews, where the conversation can proceed in a less structured fashion. The main ways in which interviews are conducted are considered below, along with their main advantages and disadvantages.

  Advantages Disadvantages
In person, as in 'street mall intercept' interviews Less burdensome to the respondent who does not have to write out responses; higher response rate; opportunity to observe respondents; good if response to visual materials required, or if questions are consequential as interviewer controls sequence Interaction between interviewer and respondent may bias response; cost of the interviewer; no good if respondents are dispersed over a wide geographical area; loss of anonymity
By telephone Good for conseqential questions, but not for visual material; easy to supervise interviewer; ideal for ongoing and recently completed events (hence its popularity for elections); greater anonymity than personal interviews; less costly than personal, can be less costly than by mail Negative perception of telephone interviews; can be difficult if there are a large number of alternatives to choose from; not suitable for longer questions

Self administered

The general problem with all self administered methods of surveys is the lack of control over response - once your questionnaire has been despatched to the respondent, there is a limited amount you can do to ensure its return, or indeed that the respondents have completed the questionnaire. Questions about to response rate, and how to improve it, are a big issue with surveys. The main methods are as follows:

  Advantages Disadvantages
By mail Easy to administer; control over visual quality of the instrument, which can be made to look professional; generally not particularly costly; greater degree of anonymity Inability to control whether or not the individual will return or complete the questionnaire, or fill in the questions in the right order; greater level of literacy required than for an interview; inappropriate for studies of rapidly changing opinions
By email Even easier to administer and less costly than mail surveys; people more likely to fill in than a mail questionnaire Not easy to guarantee anonymity
By internet Good if the population sample is highly specific, i.e. from an organisation; easier to show visual material than with an email questionnaire; not very costly Requires IT literacy from sample; difficult for more complex questions

Increasing the likelihood of completion

There are a number of ways of increasing completion rates on self administered surveys:

  1. Provide an incentive - ideally, this should be monetary, but small gifts, charitable donations, promise of issuing the report of the results.
  2. Make the survey easy to fill in - surveys that follow the KISS principle, i.e. fairly short, with simple questions, are more likely to be returned. Some writers say that as a rough rule of thumb, the questionnaire should not take more than 15 minutes to fill in.
  3. Ensure that the questionnaire looks professional - make the instructions clear, use plenty of white space etc.
  4. Increase contact with the respondents - send out reminders, write to the respondents to notify them that you are going to contact them. (Increasing the number of contacts is especially beneficial for questionnaires aimed at institutions.)
  5. State the purpose of the questionnaire - if it will be used for research purposes, what is the purpose of the research etc.
  6. Assure them that their answers will remain confidential.
  7. Be polite and courteous - you are taking up their time, they are doing you a favour. So, liberal sprinklings of 'please' and 'thank you' will not go amiss!

'Mail survey response behavior' looks at some of the factors which influence mail survey response.

The organization and presentation of questionnaires