Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-19, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 23 January, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2019.


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core definition

A questionnaire is a structured means of posing a standardised set of consistent predetermined questions in a given order to respondents for self-completion in a sample survey.

explanatory context


They are usually directed at individuals although they may collect information and opinions from small groups (such as a family unit).

Questionnaires are usually printed on paper. They may also be accessed on a visual diplay unit, or other information technology medium. The term questionnaire is usually reserved for sets of questions that are designed to be self-completed by the respondent. Structured sets of questions that are asked by an interviewer are usually referred to as interview schedules.


However, some uses of the term questionnaire include interview schedules. The two are thus sometimes differentiated by terms such as self-completion questionnaire and interviewer-administered questionnaire.

Questionnaire design

Most questionnaire design attempts a logical flow to the subject of enquiry which makes sense to the respondent. Some questionnaires (particularly those used in psychological tests) deliberately randomise or scramble up the question order.


Logical sequence


Wording: ambivalence, leading sequences etc.


Type of questions

Closed questions

Close questions are those where the respondent's answer are restricted to a list of alternatives, each of which has usually been assigned a code in advance. Close questions are sometimes called structured questions.


Closed questions are used when scaling is involved.

Open questions

Open questions allow the respondent to write, in their own words, the answer to the question in the space provided on the questionnaire form.


Types of questionnaire

Self completion questionnaire

Mailed questionnaires


Interviewer-administered questionnaire

A questionnaire completed in the presence of an interviewer. The interviewer may also verbally ask some or all of the questions.


A questionnaire which is completed by the interviewer as a result of asking questions (and thus involves no self-completion) is more usually referred to as an interview schedule.

analytical review

Richard Schaefer (2017):

Questionnaire A printed research instrument employed to obtain desired information from a respondent.


Kirklees Council (undated) Corporate Research & Consultation Team introduce questionnaires as follows:

A questionnaire is simply a ‘tool’ for collecting and recording information about a particular issue of interest. It is mainly made up of a list of questions, but should also include clear instructions and space for answers or administrative details. Questionnaires should always have a definite purpose that is related to the objectives of the research, and it needs to be clear from the outset how the findings will be used. Respondents also need to be made aware of the purpose of the research wherever possible, and should be told how and when they will receive feedback on the findings.
Structured questionnaires are usually associated with quantitative research, i.e. research that is concerned with numbers (how many? how often? how satisfied?). Within this context, questionnaires can be used in a variety of survey situations, for example postal, electronic, face-to-face and telephone. Postal and electronic questionnaires are known as self- completion questionnaires, i.e. respondents complete them by themselves in their own time. Face-to-face (F2F) and telephone questionnaires are used by interviewers to ask a standard set of questions and record the responses that people give them. Questionnaires that are used by interviewers in this way are sometimes known as interview schedules.

University of Surrey (undated) lists the following advantages and disadvantages of using questionnaires:

The advantages of questionnaires:

  1. Practical
  2. Large amounts of information can be collected from a large number of people in a short period of time and in a relatively cost effective way
  3. Can be carried out by the researcher or by any number of people with limited affect to its validity and reliability
    The results of the questionnaires can usually be quickly and easily quantified by either a researcher or through the use of a software package
  4. Can be analysed more 'scientifically' and objectively than other forms of research
  5. When data has been quantified, it can be used to compare and contrast other research and may be used to measure change
  6. Positivists believe that quantitative data can be used to create new theories and / or test existing hypotheses

    The disadvantages of questionnaires
  1. Is argued to be inadequate to understand some forms of information - i.e. changes of emotions, behaviour, feelings etc.
  2. Phenomenologists state that quantitative research is simply an artificial creation by the researcher, as it is asking only a limited amount of information without explanation
  3. Lacks validity
  4. There is no way to tell how truthful a respondent is being
  5. There is no way of telling how much thought a respondent has put in
  6. The respondent may be forgetful or not thinking 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 - i.e. what is 'good' to someone may be 'poor' to someone else, therefore there is a level of subjectivity that is not acknowledged
  8. There is a level of researcher imposition, meaning that when developing the questionnaire, the researcher is making their own decisions and assumptions as to what is and is not important...therefore they may be missing something that is of importance

    The process of coding in the case of open ended questions opens a great possibility of subjectivity by the researcher

associated issues


related areas

See also


Researching the Real World Section 8


Kirklees Council, undated, Corporate Research & Consultation Team, Research & Consultation Guidelines: Questionnaires, available at, available 8 April 2013, still available 25 December 2016.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017.

University of Surrey, undated, Module 9 : Introduction to Research 9. The advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires , available at, available 8 April 2013, still available 25 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2019


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