Business Research Methods: Questionnaires & Instruments

Questionnaires & Instruments 13.5

For many people, surveys are a good research design option because they are convenient and are easy to develop. However, they also have major faults that limit their use as an effective research design. While the limitations and faults of survey could be argued from different points of view, I find the following to be the key faults of survey research:

  1. Inappropriateness or biasness of the questions asked

One major fault of survey research is the manner in which the questions and developed and asked. Normally, a researcher would develop the questions beforehand in attempts to get the most appropriate responses. However, the pre-conceived questions are subject to the researcher’s bias as the researcher does not consider the actual social reality of the research topic in an objective manner. In addition, some of these research questions developed might be inappropriate and might not apply to all research participants. The biasness or pre-conceived thoughts could also lead to a biased research outcome as the researcher only views an issue from one angle (Starr, 2012).   

  1. The responses of the survey research cannot adequately address the research topic

Another key limitation of survey research is the usefulness of the responses in answering the research question. While the researcher might try to be brief and concise while developing the questions, participants will always interpret and answer questions differently. This often applies to open ended questions whereby respondents give their own opinions. In this case, every respondent will always have an opinion that probably differs from another participant’s responses. Another thing that could contribute to the failure of research survey to address the research topic is when the researcher does not ask the right questions. In this case, if the researcher got the questions wrong prior to conducting the survey, it is highly likely that research topic will not be adequately addressed (Schindler & Cooper, 2014).

  1. The survey outcome cannot be generalized to the whole population.

Considering the nature in which surveys are conducted and the responses they yield, they cannot be applied beyond the participants. A key intention of research is studying a phenomenon and its impact on a specific population. Unfortunately, not everyone approached by a researcher participates in the study and this locks out the population that would have made it easier to generalize the survey outcomes.  If the population characteristics of those who choose to participate in the study is significantly different from the features of the population that refuses to participate, then the survey outcome will only be applicable to the study participants.

  1. Poor instrument testing

A good research design should be able to test the instrument to ensure that it measures what it is intended to measure. However, surveys’ instruments are poorly tested as a basic pilot test cannot ensure that respondents understand the questions in the same way. This is because every individual has his or her own way of understanding and interpreting situations. However much a researcher might try to develop concise research questions, different respondents will always respond differently to the same research questions. While the use of close-ended research question could try to limit the understanding of a research question, opinions will always differ (Presser, 2004). 

These are key faults of survey research. However, these limitations do not make survey research design an inferior research method. Rather, a researcher can always design a survey in ways that minimize these limitations. 

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