This page offers a very brief introduction to the use of questionnaires in psychology.
Questionnaires are extremely useful way of finding out information in psychology. In many ways, the questionnaire can be thought of as a written interview: it can be done on the internet, over the telephone or face-to-face. It can also be done as a written exercise during which the researcher often measures the participants’ responses. Questionnaires have been used in order to find out information about personality (Eysenck, 1967; Friedman & Rosenbaum, 1974; Cattell & Kline, 1977; Pedersen et al., 1988; Costa & McCrae, 1992; Eysenck, 1998; Somer & Goldberg, 1999), quality of life (Frisch et al., 1992), anxiety sensitivity (Taylor & Cox, 1998), desirability of control (Burger & Cooper, 1979), levels of depression (Kroenke, Spitzer and Williams, 2001), sensations of pain (Melzack, 1975), dietary restraint and dis-inhibition (Stunkard & Messick, 1985), dependence on nicotine (Heatherton et al., 1991) and worry (Meyer, 1990). There are hundreds of other questionnaires available with various levels of test reliability.
Questionnaires can be a very efficient way of collecting data; the researcher does not necessarily have to be present, and large amounts of qualitative and quantitative information can be collated—particularly in this day and age—without the researcher’s input. However, due to the social desirability effect, some participants may not tell the truth when answering certain questions.
Questionnaires can use open or closed questions. If the researcher uses a closed question—in which he requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer—one can collect quantitative data later to be analyzed. In addition, if a lickert-style scale is set up for the questionnaire, with data ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’, parametric data can be analyzed using statistical methods. If open-ended questions are asked, more comprehensive information can be gathered; this approach is very helpful for finding out detailed opinions on a given topic; however, it is often very time consuming for the researcher, and phenomenological analyses are difficult to realize. Other forms of qualitative questionnaires include the unstructured interview and diary writing.
For more information on questionnaires, please see Tony Malim and Ann Birch’s (1998) handbook, ‘Introductory Psychology’, published by Macmillan Press Ltd.