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November 29, 2014 / C H Thompson


questionnaires by Sam Cook a former student

Questionnaires are a common method of discovering sociological truths. Many students think all you have to do is write a list of questions and then go and get people to answer them. Once that’s completed you summerise your findings from your valid Questionnaire1(validity) data to form a general (generalisation) conclusion. To most students it seems the simplest of things to undertake, the trouble is it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Firstly if you’re using positivist methods you’ll have to make an closed or structured or pre-coded questionnaire in order to gather quantitative data. On the other hand as a sociologist you might wish to adopt an interpretivist approach and use open-ended or unstructured questionnaires.

Closed or structured or pre-coded questionnaires


  1. relatively quick to complete by respondent
  2. easier, quick, and less costly to analyze
  3. data produced ought to be reliable (easy to repeat) allowing other researchers to test the findings (replicating open questionnairethe method of the natural scientists)
  4. they produce data which is relatively easy to categorise and present in statistical form such as graphs and charts
  5. make it easy for comparisons to be between different groups. This is because respondents are all answering the same questions


  1. possible misinterpretation of questions
  2. limited choice of answers puts artificial limits on how the respondent answers
  3. if answered with researcher present respondent might ‘lie’ as they’re too embarrassed to tell the truth
  4. the responses set out are those of the sociologist and not necessarily those of the respondent (imposition problem)
  5. too many options might confuse the respondent
  6. no way of knowing  if respondent understood the question/questions
  7. response options can put ideas into the respondents mind

Open or unstructured questionnaires


  1. responses are in the respondents own words, rather than those of sociologist as with closed questionnaires, which improves validity
  2. the imposition problem found in closed questionnaires is less of an issue as the respondent is using their own words and not those of the researcher as with closed questionnaires
  3. they provide more detailed and deeper answers including more information such as feelings and attitudes
  4. open-ended questions simply do not allow respondents to speed read or avoid reading the questions and so “fill in” the answer without thinking


  1. with such a broad range of answers it can be hard to classify and quantify the date into graphs and charts
  2. with such a broad range of answers it can be difficult to compare results with similar research
  3. response rate can lower than with those that use closed-ended questions as people have to fill them in and they might feel awkward regarding their spelling and or hand-writing
  4. responses might be ‘skip’ to the point as the respondent is in a rush and so the answers given are too vague
  5. hand-writing might be illegible through the respondent rushing


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