Postal Questionnaires and their
use in Sociological Research
1 Postal questionnaires are one type of written questionnaires
that can be used by sociologists. A sociologist will formulate
a set of questions, and they will send the same set of
questions to a large group of people, traditionally via post but
it can be done on the internet.
1.1 There are two types of questions that can be
asked: closed-ended and open-ended
questions. Closed-ended questions have set
responses, while open-ended questions
allow for any answer.
1.1.1 Open- ended questions are more favoured by interpretivist
sociologists as they give more reliable data. HOWEVER, they are
more difficult to quantify, and follow-up questions can't be asked .
1.1.2 Closed questions are easier to quantify and are more
preferred by positivists. However, closed questions can
sacrifice validity for reliability.
2.1 Postal questionnaires are usually more
favoured by POSITIVIST sociologists than
they are by INTERPRETIVISTS.
2.1.1 Postal questionnaires can be a very RELIABLE way of
collecting data as the same questions are asked each time. It is
therefore easy to see if differences in responses are due to
differences in the research population.
220.127.116.11 POSITIVISTS favor this ability to establish
18.104.22.168 Questionnaires can also be representative due to the ability to reach many
people. HOWEVER, the return rate of postal questionnaires can be very low.
22.214.171.124.1 Hite: 4.5% of 100,000
2.1.2 They are not very
good ways of
data, for many
126.96.36.199 People may forget, not
know, or lie about their
responses (e.g. the
Likewise, they may not
188.8.131.52 Questionnaires only give
a snapshot in time, and
it's difficult to find out
3.1.1 It can be difficult to tell if the intended
person got their questionnaire, and if
a respondent is the person to whom it
was originally addressed.
3.1.2 Though postal
questionnaires can be cheap
compared to some other
types of research, to
increase the response rate it
may be necessary to offer an
incentive, such as an entry
into a prize draw. This can
raise the cost.
3.2.1 It may be cheaper to send out many thousands of postal
questionnaires than it would be to train a few researchers to conduct
in-depth interviews, or to pay people to conduct surveys on the
4.1 Postal questionnaires come with very few ethical problems, especially due to the fact that
they have less of an effect on people's lives as other methods such as participant
observation or experiments. However, sociologists still need to make moral considerations.
4.1.1 Researchers must naturally always get a respondent's informed consent, and with
postal questionnaires this is easy because if people don't want to take part, they don't
have to: questions are made optional, and so is sending the questionnaire back.
4.1.2 Some people argue there are problems when it comes to
subject matter. For example, some questions or subjects may
be deemed as intrusive, or not age appropriate: an example
may be questions about people's sex lives.