Essay on Examine the problems some sociologists find with using postal questionnaires in their research

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Pages: 3

Examine the problems some sociologists find with using postal questionnaires in their research. (20 mark)

This essay will examine the problems with using postal questionnaires. Postal questionnaires are simply questionnaires that are sent through the post to people’s homes. Questionnaires are the most commonly used form of social survey and are used to ask respondents to provide answers to pre-set questions. The essay will explore the issues by examining the problems, which include practical issues such as being limited and superficial. Questionnaires need to be fairly brief since most respondents are unlikely to complete and return a long survey. Also ethical issues such as gaining informed consent and keeping respondents anonymity can be problems for many researchers using postal questionnaires. Also there are strengths to using questionnaires as they are cheap and collect large amounts of information.
Practical issues include inflexability as well as being limited and superficial; once the researcher has chosen their choice of questions they cannot be changed. Questionnaires need to be brief and short since most respondents are unlikely to complete and return a long, time-consuming questionnaire. This limits the amount of information that researcher can obtain. Although questionnaires can collect large amounts of information, very low response rates can be a problem especially with postal questionnaires. An example of this is Shere Hite’s (1991) study of ‘Love, passion and emotional violence’, in which 100,000 questionnaires were sent out however only 4.5 per cent were returned. In order to deal with this some researchers may offer some sort of incentive, for example an entry to a prize draw. So though questionnaires are relatively cheap there is still a cost for printing, stamps, envelopes and the cost of any offered incentive. Theirs is also the possibility that the questionnaires could get lost in the post or the wrong person could fill it out, this could cause a lot of problems especially if a child was to fill out a questionnaire by accident.
This leads us on to ethical issues that postal questionnaires can cause. Questionnaires pose fewer ethical problems than most other research methods, however there are still some issues that can be caused when using questionnaires, such as the need for informed consent which is hard to get when the researcher is not face to face with the respondent. Also questions may be insensitive which could lead to…