Week 3: Meta Research

Behind every good-piece-of-writing there’s always an equally good-amount-of-research. For it is necessary to know about the subject we’re writing about to clearly communicate a concept, argument or idea, etc.

There are different approaches one can have towards research, that is, different research methods to opt for. So from the ones discussed in class today, I chose questionnaires to do some research on (you heard it, we’re doing research on research; talking about meta-research here).

Advantages & Disadvantages

The advantages of questionnaires:

  1. Practical;
  2. Large quantity of information can be collected from a large number of people in a relatively short period of time;
  3. Can be carried out by researcher with limited influence to its legitimacy and reliability;
  4. Results from questionnaires can usually be quickly and easily quantified;
  5. Can be analysed more ‘scientifically’ and objectively than other forms of research;
  6. Can be compared to other research to measure change in a specific subject;
  7. Quantitative data can be used to create new theories and/or test existing hypotheses.

The disadvantages of questionnaires:

  1. Inadequate to understand some forms of information;
  2. Could be asking a limited amount of information without requiring an explanation, adding very little to the research;
  3. Lacks validity;
  4. There is no way to know if respondent is being honest;
  5. telling how much thought a respondent has put in;
  6. Answers may not be thought within the full context of the situation;
  7. People may read differently into each question and therefore reply based on their own interpretation of the question;
  8. When developing the questionnaire, the researcher is making their own decisions and assumptions as to what is and is not important, influencing the research itself.

Designing a Questionnaire

With some surveys suffering from a response rate as low as 5% it is essential that your questionnaire is well designed. Here are a few tips to have in mind:

  • Make sure all questions asked address the aims of the research;
  • Questions should be short, otherwise people will not complete the questionnaire;
  • No unnecessary questions;
  • Run a pilot study to ensure people will understand the questions and to get feedback on the design;
  • Easy questions should come first;
  • There should be no complicated terminology/technical words – questions must be simple and easy to understand;
  • Must look professional.

Ethical Issues

The researcher must always ensure the information provided by the respondent is kept confidential.

This means questionnaires are good for researching sensitive topics as respondents will be more honest when they cannot be identified. Keeping the questionnaire confidential should also reduce the likelihood of any psychological harm, such as embarrassment.

Participants must provide informed consent prior to completing the questionnaire, and must be aware that they have the right to withdraw their information at any time during the survey/study.

Closed Questions

Closed questions structure the answer by allowing only answers which fit into categories that have been decided in advance by the researcher. The options can be restricted to as few as two (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘male’ or ‘female’), or include quite complex lists of alternatives from which the respondent can choose.

The respondent provides information which can be easily converted into quantitative data (e.g. count the number of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers). Closed questions can also provide ordinal data (which can be ranked). This often involves using a rating scale to measure the strength of an attitudes or emotions (e.g. ‘strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree’ questions).

Strengths

  • They are economical. This means they can provide large amounts of research data for relatively low costs.
  • Data can be quickly obtained as closed questions are easy to answer. This means a large sample size can be obtained which should be representative of the population, which a researcher can then generalize from.
  • The questions are standardised. All respondents are asked exactly the same questions in the same order. This means a questionnaire can be replicated easily to check for reliability. Therefore, a second researcher can use the questionnaire to check that the results are consistent.

Limitations

  • They lack detail. Because the responses are fixed there is less scope for respondents to supply answers which reflect their true feelings on a topic (no explanations available).

Open Questions

Open questions allow people to express what they think in their own words.

If you want to gather more in-depth answers from your respondents then open questions will work better. These give no pre-set answer options and instead allow the respondents to put down exactly what they like in their own words. Open questions are often used for complex questions that cannot be answered in a few simple categories but require more detail and discussion.

Strengths

  • Rich qualitative data is obtained as open questions allow the respondent to elaborate on their answer. This means the research can find out why a person holds a certain attitude.

Limitations

  • Time consuming to collect the data. It takes longer for the respondent to complete open questions. This is a problem as a smaller sample size may be obtained.
  • Time consuming to analyze the data. It takes longer for the researcher to analyze qualitative data as they have to read the answers and try to put them into categories by coding, which is often subjective and difficult.
  • Not suitable for less educated respondents as open questions require superior writing skills and a better ability to express one’s feelings verbally.

References:

  • K. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), reprinted (2004) by Routledge, Taylor & Francis
  • McLeod, S. A. (2014). Questionnaires. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/questionnaires.html
  • S. Ackroyd and J. A. Hughes, Data Collection in Context (1981) Longman

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