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Although the use of the internet has proliferated in recent years, its use for conducting online questionnaire surveys in the Social Sciences still remains relatively limited. This is surprising since the internet offers great methodological potential and versatility which has added much to the potentials of survey research generally (Vehovar and Lozar Manfreda, 2008). Online questionnaires can offer distinct advantages. They can:
- Enable the researcher to contact a geographically dispersed population and so can be useful in internationalising research;
- Be used to contact groups often difficult to reach, such as the less physically mobile (disabled/in prison/in hospital) or the socially isolated (drug dealers/terminally ill) or those living in dangerous places (war zones);
- Provide savings in costs to the researcher (for example, the costs associated with travel, venue, data entry);
- Supply data quickly, providing fast alternatives to postal, face-to-face and telephone surveys;
- Enhance the effectiveness of research and increase response rates where used carefully and appropriately as part of a mixed-mode methodology (Dillman et. al., 2009).
The limited uptake of online questionnaires is partly owing to the perceived technical expertise required to use them. The aim of this module, therefore, is to disseminate information on the use, strengths and weaknesses and design of online questionnaires, in the hope of increasing their use within the Social Science research community.
Despite the obvious attractions of online questionnaires, their use must be appropriate and justified for each particular research project, especially given increasing levels of 'survey fatigue' (Witte, 2009). There are important issues that must be considered prior to conducting online questionnaires. These include:
- Ensuring that the use of an online questionnaire is the most appropriate research tool to address the aims of the research;
- Deciding on the most relevant questionnaire type and question format for addressing the aims of the research;
- Establishing a justified sampling strategy to recruit relevant respondents and ensure an appropriate response rate;
- Focusing on design to ensure the questionnaires are as usable as possible whilst also making sure they are accessible and are presented in an adequately similar way to all participants (Best and Krueger, 2008);
- Guaranteeing the ethical rights of respondents including informed consent, confidentiality and privacy.
A decision on whether is it appropriate to use online questionnaires depends on an evaluation of the relative advantages and disadvantages of this method in relation to other methods and in the context of the specific topic that is going to be studied (Naus et. al, 2009). This module provides information and guidance that will help in addressing these issues.
In the following video interview, Tristram Hooley interviews Jane Wellens about some research she carried out using an online questionaire. The interview touches on many of the issues covered in this module.
Using a questionnaire for a student survey (parts 1 and 2) (Jane Wellens and Tristram Hooley)