Questionnaire as tool for data gathering



The 7th empowerment lecture series of the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) had Professor Idowu Sobowale speaking on Questionnaire Construction for Surveys. It was held recently in Lagos.

He noted that the dynamism and complexity of the world dictate that new approaches must be found to provide solutions to economic, political and social problems arguing that the challenges facing the media industry today command that new knowledge and new techniques be applied to whatever it is being engaged in. “Nor is it wise to expect that what works today would tomorrow. The professional information carrier must learn new ways of performing old trades and must come to full understanding of the complexities of old relationships.

“What better way of achieving this new realism than to fuse theory and practice?”

Quoting his earlier works, he said that the questionnaire is an important instrument for obtaining information from people about their perceptions, opinions, attitudes and behaviours in survey studies.

He maintained that the usefulness of the questionnaire is not limited to surveys only as it could be used to complement or supplement other research methodologies.

“It can be, and it is often used, in experimentation. For example, when an experimental stimulus has been administered to a subject, a questionnaire may be used to measure the reaction/s.

“It can also be employed when supplementary information is necessary after a content analysis to answer questions that content analysis may be unable to answer.

“The questionnaire can similarly be used with observation when it is necessary to answer the question ‘Why’?

“The findings of any survey will, to a large extent, be as good as the questions asked in the questionnaire. If inadequate or ambiguous questions are asked, inadequate or ambiguous responses will be obtained.

“Wrong analysis and misleading interpretations and, consequently, misleading reports and stories are often the natural consequence of poor data, resulting from poor information gathering procedure.

“If the questionnaire is that important to the overall success of the survey, then, proper care must go into its preparation.”

He observed that constructing good questions that measure variables the researcher wants to measure is one of the difficult tasks in social scientific activities.

He therefore said that not only must the questions be adequate, they must mean to the respondent what they mean to the researcher or the meaning he wants them to mean to the respondents.

To achieve this, he said the questions must be simple, direct, unambiguous and must not connote more than one interpretation.

“It is, therefore, important that researchers define their concepts clearly so that those who read or listen to the questions can share the researcher’s own meanings of the concepts used in the questions.”

For him, unless major concepts are carefully operationalized by formalizing the questions, each respondent would be free to give his or her own interpretations.

“If this happens, the researcher’s work would have been a total waste of time and resources. His respondents would have talked in so many “incongruous tongues” that he would not be able to make much sense of the responses he collected.”

He also believed that a questionnaire helps the researcher to provide an opportunity for a deliberate and careful operationalization of concepts of interest besides making perfectly clear what the questions demand from the respondents/interviewees. The university don stated that there are three ways a question can be asked in an instrument. He listed them to include: straightforward or direct questions; contingent question and matrix question.

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