For our 3rd essay in the Master in Research degree course with the Open University we have to explain what method of survey is chosen, write up the questionnaire with its coding and discuss ethical implications.
There are two common extremes in survey methods, face to face interview and (online) self completion questionnaires.
Face to face interview
Face to face interviews are great when you want to see the personal reaction to the questions asked. During the answering of the questions, you will get an understanding of the nuances of the participant. Face to face interviews are a good source to get as much information from the participant as you want. You can keep asking the participant for further details, thereby really getting to the bottom of what they are thinking or feeling.
However, there are weaknesses to face to face interviews. They can be expensive, time consuming, often intrusive as the participant has to be available at that given time and for good results you will need to properly brief and train your interviewers. A way to overcome the expenses of travel is conducting telephone interviews, but these can still be considered time consuming and intrusive by the participant. You probably can remember occassions when you were called during dinner time by someone asking for your participation in an interview.
Face to face interviews have their place in research, mainly when you want to collect detailed qualitative information for a selected, small group of society. Good examples are those involving physological or sociological surveys.
Online self completion questionnaires
Characteristics of self completion questionnaires are they are cheap, time saving, you can reach a large sample and less intrusive as participants can decide when they want to complete the survey
However, one of the weaknesses of the self completion questionnaire is that there is no help for the participant to get further information. The questions in the survey therefore have to be standardised, clear and unambiguous. This means that a lot of time needs to be spend on questionnaire design and testing to guarantee that you collect the answers you want.
Self completion questionnaires are widely used for gathering quantitative information. The most common version has been paper based booklets, but with the widespread integration of the Internet into everyday life, the online survey has taken a foothold. The benefits of online survey are ease of data transaction, reduced scope for error and lower costs together with environmental benefits.
For my research into Successful Internet Entrepreneurs I have opted for the online self completion questionnaire. This is driven by the potential worldwide distribution of my target group, the need for participants to choose their own time of completion and the use of mostly closed questions.