12.1.3  Written questionnaires

A written questionnaire is a data collection tool in which written questions are presented to be answered by the respondents in written form. The questions are directed towards collecting simple factual information, which can be answered either by writing a few words on the questionnaire, or ticking a box next to the chosen answer from a list of options. You can use this form of data collection in many different ways, for example:

  • Through mailing to respondents who are asked to post their responses back to you.
  • Gathering your respondents in one place at one time, giving oral or written instructions, asking them to fill out the questionnaires and collecting them when completed.
  • Delivering your questionnaires to the respondents by hand and collecting them later.

As with questions presented in interviews, the questions on a written questionnaire can be either structured or unstructured, but they are always simple to answer directly. Questionnaires do not usually seek complex information about people’s attitudes, beliefs or preferences, or explanations about why they behave in a certain way. (Complex information is best collected through interviews or focus groups.)

  • In a written questionnaire, the following question was asked:

    From which of the following sources do you get your water? Tick all options that apply to you.

    A  Well

    B  River

    C  Pond

    D  Standpipe

    E  Another source

    Is this a structured or unstructured question?

  • It is a structured question because a rigid choice of answers is presented and the respondent must choose from them.

  • How would you ask this same question in an unstructured way? How are the answers recorded, and what further questions might this enable you to ask?

  • You could ask ‘Where do you get your water from?’ This is an unstructured question because there are no prepared responses already written down. The respondent either writes their answer in their own words on the questionnaire, or the interviewer writes it for them on the questionnaire. Further questions you may have thought of might include:

    A  ‘How far do you have to go to collect your water?’

    B  ‘How often do you collect water?’

    C  ‘How long does it take you to collect water?’

    The unstructured question therefore enables you to explore the respondent’s answer further. Note that all the questions require very simple factual answers, e.g. (in the example above) the answers might be:

    A ‘Two kilometres’,

    B ‘Once a day’,

    C ‘Two hours’.

Table 12.1 summarises the advantages and disadvantages of the methods of collecting data that you have learned about so far.

Table 12.1  Advantages and disadvantages of different data collection techniques.

  • Gives detailed information in a particular context
  • Permits collection of information which may not be appropriate to ask in a questionnaire
  • Ethical issues concerning confidentiality or privacy may arise
  • Observer bias may occur (observer may only notice what interests him or her)
  • The presence of the data collector can influence the situation being observed
  • Suitable for use with illiterate people
  • Permits clarification of questions
  • Has higher response rate than written questionnaires
  • The presence of the interviewer can influence responses
  • Reports of events may be less complete than information gained through observations
Written questionnaires
  • Not expensive
  • Permits anonymity and may result in more honest responses
  • Is not labour-intensive, so does not require assistants
  • Eliminates bias as questions are phrased in the same way for all respondents.
  • Cannot be used with illiterate respondents (unless they are helped)
  • There is often a low rate of response
  • Questions may be misunderstood

12.1.2  Interviewing

12.2  Focus group discussions