02 Dec 2014

Surveys: An ABC Guide, part 7

Benefits and drawbacks of questionnaire surveys

There are both benefits and drawbacks with interviews and questionnaires. These can differ from survey to survey, and you should find out what is suitable for your particular survey. Below we present the benefits and drawbacks of the survey methods so that you can decide for yourself which method suits you best.

Benefits of questionnaires as a survey method

Compared with face-to-face interviews, questionnaires are very time and cost-effective. This applies particularly when you need to process large volumes of information from people who may also be spread widely geographically throughout the country. Written forms also become more and more cost-effective the more questions there are.

Questionnaires are easy to analyse. Data processing, statistical programs and tabulation options for most types of survey are available in many kinds of software on all computers.

Most people are very familiar with questionnaires and they rarely need to be explained in depth. Nearly everyone has taken part in a questionnaire survey at some time or other. Taking part tends not to upset or worry the respondent.

Questionnaires tend to reduce the risk of impartiality. The questions are identical for all respondents, and there is no intermediate party that may misinterpret the information given by the respondent. The perception of reality of the person conducting the survey does not influence the respondent in any direction. There are no additional signals, such as looks or facial expressions, that might influence the respondent.

A questionnaire does not feel as intrusive as someone phoning up asking questions or interviewing you face-to-face. When a respondent receives a survey by email, they can complete it at a time that suits them. In contrast to other survey methods, this does not interrupt the respondent’s work.


Drawbacks of questionnaires

– and how to overcome them

One of the main drawbacks of sending out questionnaires by email is the risk of a low response rate. Poor response rates are the number one enemy of statistical analysis, and a low level of participation can reduce the credibility of the survey. The response rate varies greatly among the different types of survey, but it is clear that a well-designed and well-planned survey will produce a high response rate.

Another disadvantage of questionnaires is that there is no opportunity to delve deeper into the replies. Forms are rigidly ordered and fairly crude instruments, without any subtleties, and the format often allows little flexibility to the respondent. Compared with a verbal interview, where respondents will often be able to expand on their replies, the subtleties of the replies are lost in questionnaires.

However, it is possible to overcome this problem by having a reply field for comments. It is often the comments field that provides the most important information in a survey as it is able to provide incisive information that would otherwise not have emerged.

Almost ninety per cent of all communication is done by visual impressions. Gestures, looks and other visual ‘clues’ are not available with a written form. The absence of personal closeness can have different effects, depending on the type of information you wish to access. This is probably not a problem if all you require is factual information, but if you wish to draw out emotional information and important fine distinctions or attitudes from the respondent, then the results may be misleading.

When you receive your questionnaire responses, you naturally assume that the person answering is the same person that you sent it to. However, you can never know that this is the case. If you send a questionnaire to the manager of a company, that person may well forward the questionnaire to someone else to complete.

Finally, questionnaires simply do not suit everyone. For example, questionnaires may frighten people who are not in the habit of reading or who are less well-educated. There are also those who are suspicious of written forms as they believe the information may be misused or used against them. These personality types are then excluded in your analysis of the target group.

It has been mentioned before, but is worth saying again: A good relationship with your customers makes it easier for you to win their trust, and this will make it easier for you to find participants for your market surveys. Do not abuse that trust.