Self-administered questionnaires are a very common and mostly used tool for collecting data in research. This article will provide all necessary information regarding this data collection tool.
What is the Self-Administered Questionnaire (SAQ)?
This is a type of data collection tool. However, it is less common than interviewer-administered questionnaires, but it is now becoming widely acceptable due to its countess beneficial features.
An SAQ is a method used for collecting data without needing an interviewer or surveyor. This tool eliminates the need for an interviewer to conduct research. In this method, written questions are provided to the respondents, who have to answer independently. They are also known as mailed questionnaires.
As we know, the cost of an interviewer-administered survey is quite high. Therefore, many researchers are now considering SAQ to minimize cost and time. The respondents have to fill in the answers in written form.
Types of SAQ
As the SAQ is in written form, it can be administered differently. Some of the ways or types are listed below.
Through Mail: in this type, a questionnaire is mailed to the respondents with all the necessary and detailed information. The respondents then fill it out and mail it back to the researcher.
Gathering Group of People: in this type, a group of people from a sample population are gathered in one place. The researcher gives all the necessary information and instructions about how to fill out the questionnaires. After filling in the data, they return the questionnaires to the researcher on the spot.
Hand-Delivered: in this type, the researcher delivers the questionnaires by hand to the respondents. They give some time to the respondents to let them fill properly and collect later.
Computer-Delivered: this data collection is usually performed in offices or organizations. The questionnaires are delivered to the employees’ computer systems through the organization’s intranet.
Intercept Studies: in this method, the questionnaires are distributed at a place with a large group of people from the sample population for example, some offices, shopping malls, etc., respondents are given some time to fill, and the researcher then collects back the questionnaires. In this case, the researcher first has to explain the purpose of the research to the respondent in order to achieve desired results.
Email Survey: the questionnaires are sent to the respondents through email. They fill out the questionnaires and email them back to the researcher. They can be both open or closed-ended.
Internet Survey: they are posted on a website. Respondents are asked to visit a specific website to fill out the survey.
The survey can be conducted on a phone, iPad, tablet, computer, etc.
Advantages of Self-Administered Questionnaires
There are many considerable benefits of SAQs. Some of them are described below.
More Budget Friendly
Budget is no doubt an important part of every research. Many researchers fail to succeed due to low-budget issues. Therefore, we must acknowledge that it is an important factor to consider when we plan to do research.
In SAQs, there is no need to hire supervisors or interviewers. They are indeed an added cost in the survey process. The only cost in this type of method is the planning, designing, sampling, implementing, analyzing, etc. These costs are much lower than the costs of other survey methods.
More Time Saving
Traditional survey methods and tools are more time-consuming as compared to SAQ. In traditional methods, the supervisors or interviewers have to go by themselves to complete the questionnaires. However, in SAQ, you can mail it to the respondents. You can send the questionnaires to all the respondents at the same time. They send it back to you after recording their responses. In this way, much time and effort can be saved.
This research tool has made the sampling easier. In most cases, this tool uses homogenous samples. Therefore, the sampling gets easier and more accurately done with less effort and time.
More Convenient for Respondents
When the respondents get the questionnaires on their phone or computer, they find it more convenient to get them filled by allocating proper time to filling the questionnaires. They feel more convenient to get them filled at their place without the intervention of an interviewer or the need to answer the supervisor. Moreover, when the respondents feel relaxed, it is obvious that the responses recorded will be more accurate and usable.
Bias less Data Collection
When the interviewer is present on the spot, the respondents often make biassed choices while answering the questions. The technical skills they use to get responses from people often result in respondents’ biassed choices.
However, in the case of SAQ, there is no chance of respondent bias as no one is present on the spot to influence or interfere with the responses. This way, more natural response collection is possible, and the data becomes more reliable and valid.
Wide Range Accessibility
With the help of mailed questionnaires, you can record responses from people worldwide. In this way, you can get huge and geographically dispersed sample data without travelling to different places. The only cost you have to bear is the cost of a postal stamp, etc. This data collection method provides a wide range of accessibility to people worldwide.
Some of the disadvantages or limitations of this data collection tool are listed below.
Questionnaire Design is Limited
One of the significant drawbacks of this type of questionnaire is that its design options could be more extensive. This is so because you send the questionnaire to the respondent with written instructions to fill out the questionnaire. Someone else is present on the spot to explain the respondent. That is why the questions must be made simpler and easier to let the respondent understand them easily.
SAQs are mostly designed with straightforward, fewer open-ended, and short questions to make it easily understandable for the respondents.
Response Rate is Less
This is also considered a major drawback because mailed questionnaires receive a very low response rate. This happens because, in many cases, people tend to ignore random mails and emails. They do not even open the mail to see what is inside it. That is why the response rate in some studies remains as low as 10%.
However, interviews, on the other hand, have a very good response rate; in that case, the reasons for the non-responsiveness of the respondents are also known.
Results are Inflexible
The answers you get in a mailed questionnaire are totally inflexible. You have to accept the answers as they are written or filled. You cannot probe the respondent further to get better answers. You also get ambiguous answers to many questions, and these answers make your overall result more reliable and valid in some cases.
Respondent’s Behavior is not Known
As there is no interviewer or supervisor present in this type of data collection process, therefore, the behavior of the respondents cannot be recorded.
The interviewers are experts in judging the respondent’s body language to assess their social behaviours. In this way, better judgments can be made, and the research results can be made more realistic. However, in the case of mailed questionnaires, the respondent’s behaviors are unknown.
For example, suppose there is a questionnaire that divides the respondents according to social class. In that case, the lower-class respondent may also fill out the questionnaire that is supposed to be for the upper class, and in this way, the results will be biased and unrealistic.
When an interview is conducted, it is conducted in a controlled environment so that there would be minimum interference from the respondents. In this way, the response bias can also be minimized.
However, in the case of mailed surveys, the researcher cannot control the environment. He is still determining who else will interfere with the respondent during the survey filling process. Outside interference is a huge source of response bias and hinders accurate results. That is why an uncontrolled environment is considered to be a major drawback of SAQs.
Improperly Filled Data
As no interviewer or supervisor is present on the spot to guide the respondent, there is a huge chance that many questions will not be answered properly. In many cases, respondents do not even bother to answer ambiguous questions. For example, some surveys could include socially unacceptable questions that the respondent will not even bother to answer or will not answer properly, thus producing non-factual results.
This is also one of the reasons why the response rate of SAQs is low as compared to interview surveys.
This is also a major disadvantage in self-administered questionnaires. You mail the questionnaire to the respondent’s address, thinking he will get the mail, fill in the data, and mail it back to you. However, this is only true in some cases. You need to find out whether the data is filled by the intended person or not.
The actual person may make someone fill out the questionnaire and mail it back to you because there is no way for the researcher to find out the respondent’s identity. In this way, data and results’ accuracy, reliability, and validity are highly compromised.
Enhancing SAQ’s Response Rate
As we mentioned above, the response rate of mail surveys is relatively lower as compared to the interview survey method. That is why we have collected some useful tips to enhance the response rate of SAQs or mail surveys.
Following up after sending the mail surveys is important in enhancing the response rate. Follow-up is a reminder for the respondent that he has to fill up the data and return the survey on time.
Repeated follow-ups play an important role in enhancing the overall response rate and producing more accurate results subsequently.
Notifying in Advance
It has been proved through evidence that if you notify the respondent in advance that you will send a survey questionnaire to be filled out by them, then the response rate gets better. You can call or text the corresponding person to send a survey. This helps the respondents to remember and fill the questionnaire on time and thus helps increase the response rate.
Mentioning a sponsor is another powerful way to enhance the response rate. It would help if you mentioned the sponsors in the survey’s cover letter. This helps increase the worth of your survey and the response rate.
Self-administered questionnaires have both merits and demerits that are enough to show the importance of this data collection tool.
The survey without an interviewer makes the respondent more comfortable and feels more at ease to respond according to his will. He feels no one notices his behavioural responses; therefore, he fills more comfortably and without any haste.
On the other hand, sometimes, we need to return the survey questionnaires. People need more time to fill them or else they do not bother to mail them back. This results in lowered response rate, and the process of research lags, slows down or fails to succeed.
Moreover, the information provided is sometimes very biased or improper, resulting in unreliable or invalid results and thus killing the research’s actual purpose.
However, this method is still widely used by many researchers worldwide due to its countless benefits, especially time and money saving. You only have to analyze first whether the nature of your research allows the use of this data collection tool or not.