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Interviewer-Absent Self-Administered Questionnaires

Advantages of Self-Administered Questionnaires

  • 1. Mailed questionnaires (whether on paper or on disk) puts the post office to work for you in finding respondents. If you cannot use the mail (because sampling frames are unavailable, or because you cannot expect people to respond, or because you are in a country where mail service is unreliable), you can use cluster and area sampling (see chapter 5), combined with the drop-and-collect technique. This involves leaving a questionnaire with a respondent and going back later to pick it up. Ibeh and Brock (2004) used this in their study of company managers in Nigeria. The standard response rate for mailed questionnaires to busy executives in sub-Saharan Africa is around 36%. Using the drop-and-collect technique, Ibeh and Brock achieved a nearly 60% response rate. With both mailed surveys and the drop-and-collect method, self-administered questionnaires allow a single researcher to gather data from a large, representative sample of respondents, at relatively low cost per datum.
  • 2. All respondents get the same questions with a self-administered questionnaire. There is no worry about interviewer bias or response effects, based on features of the interviewer. As we saw in chapter 8, questions about sexual behavior (including family planning) and about attitudes toward women or men or members of particular ethnic/ racial groups are particularly susceptible to this problem. The perceived sexual orientation of the interviewer, for example, affects how supportive respondents are of homosexuality (Kemph and Kasser 1996).
  • 3. You can ask more complex questions with a self-administered paper questionnaire than you can in a personal interview. Questions that involve a long list of response categories or that require a lot of background data are hard to follow orally, but are often interesting to respondents if worded right on paper.

For really complex questions, you’re better off with CASI because respondents don’t have to think about any convoluted instructions at all—instructions like: ‘‘Have you ever had hepatitis? If not, then skip to question 42.’’ Later, after the respondent finishes a series of questions about her bout with hepatitis, the questionnaire says: ‘‘Now return to question 40.’’ With CASI, the computer does all the work and the respondent can focus on responding.

  • 4. You can ask long batteries of otherwise boring questions on self-administered questionnaires that you just couldn’t get away with in a personal interview. Look at figure 9.1. Imagine trying to ask someone to sit still while you recited, say, 30 items and asked for their response. CASI is much better at this.
  • 5. In self-administered interviews, people aren’t trying to impress anyone, and anonymity

FIGURE 9.1.

A battery item in a questionnaire. Batteries can consist of many items.

provides a sense of security, which produces more reports of things like premarital sexual experiences, constipation, arrest records, alcohol dependency, interpersonal violence, and so on. L. Peterson et al. (1996) randomly assigned two groups of 57 Swedish Army veterans to fill out the Beck’s Depression Inventory (Beck et al. 1961). One group used the pencil-and-paper version; the other used a computer-based version. Those who used the computer-based version had significantly higher mean scores on really sensitive questions about depression (Further Reading: mode effects).

This does not mean that more reporting of behavior means more accurate reporting. We know better than that. But, as I’ve said before, more is usually better than less. If Chicanos report spending 12 hours per week in conversation with their families at home, and Anglos (as white, non-Hispanic Americans are known in the American Southwest) report spending 4 hours, I wouldn’t want to bet that Chicanos really spend 12 hours, on average, or that Anglos really spend 4 hours, on average, talking to their families. But I’d find the fact that Chicanos reported spending three times as much time talking with their families pretty interesting.

 
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