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Disadvantages of Self-Administered Questionnaires

  • 1. You have no control over how people interpret questions on a self-administered instrument, whether the questionnaire is delivered on paper or on a home computer or over the Internet. There is always the danger that, no matter how much background work you do, no matter how hard you try to produce culturally correct questions, respondents will be forced into making culturally inappropriate choices in closed-ended questionnaires. If the questionnaire is self-administered, you can’t answer people’s questions about what a particular item means.
  • 2. If you are not working in a highly industrialized nation, or if you are not prepared to use Dillman’s Tailored Design Method (discussed below), you are likely to see response rates of 20%-30% from mailed questionnaires and even worse from Internet surveys. It is entirely reasonable to analyze the data statistically and to offer conclusions about the correlations among variables for those who responded to your survey. But low response means you can’t draw conclusions about larger populations. CASI and audio CASI studies are based on real visits with people, in the field. Response rates for those forms of self-administered questionnaires can be very high. In that study that Hewett et al. did in Kenya, they had a response rate of over 80% (2004:328).
  • 3. Even if a mailed questionnaire is returned, you can’t be sure that the respondent who received it is the person who filled it out, and the same is true for Internet and e-mail questionnaires.
  • 4. Mailed questionnaires are prone to serious sampling problems. Sampling frames of addresses are almost always flawed, sometimes very badly. If you use a phone book to select a sample, you miss all those people who don’t have phones or who choose not to list their numbers or who just have cell phones. Face-to-face administration of questionnaires is often based on an area cluster sample, with random selection of households within each cluster. This is a much more powerful sampling design than most mailed questionnaire surveys can muster.
  • 5. In some cases, you may want respondents to answer a question without their knowing what’s coming next. This is impossible in a self-administered paper questionnaire, but it’s not a problem in CASI and audio CASI studies.
  • 6. Self-administered paper and CASI questionnaires are simply not useful for studying nonliterate or illiterate populations, or people who can’t use a keyboard.
 
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