Complementing Questionnaire Data With Other Information

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Having discussed how to construct and administer questionnaires, and then how to analyze and report the responses we have obtained, the final section of this book addresses ways of proceeding toward a

Sample Table 1. Descriptive statistics of the content of this book

Frequency

Pages

Boxes

Words

Introduction

2

1

620

Chapter 1

13

4

3,455

Chapter 2

54

22

14,495

Chapter 3

26

6

7,293

Chapter 4

36

8

9,389

Conclusion

5

0

995

fuller understanding of the content area targeted by our survey. As discussed in Chapter 1, although questionnaires offer a versatile and highly effective means of data collection, the kinds of insight they can generate are limited by several factors, most notably by the restricted time and effort respondents are usually willing to invest in completing the instrument. In a more general sense, questionnaires are also limited by the shortcomings of quantitative research as a methodological approach, in that they offer little scope for explorative, in-depth analyses of complex relationships or for doing justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.

The good news about questionnaires, however, is that their flexible nature makes them ideal to be used in complex research paradigms in concert with other data collection methods. Brown (2001), for example, argues that questionnaire data and interview data can be seen as inherently complementary:

... in the sense that interviews are more suitable for exploring what the questions are and questionnaires are more suitable for answering those questions. Sometimes, you may want to use the strengths of both types of instruments in a single survey project.

Such an approach can be labeled as a "two-phase design," made up of separate qualitative and quantitative phases (Creswell, 1994): it allows the main theses of a qualitative project to be tested in a survey study in order to determine the distribution and frequency of the phenomena that have been uncovered.

In a similar vein, Gillham (2000) urges survey researchers to conduct semi-structured interviews to accompany questionnaire results in order to gain a better understanding of what the numerical responses actually mean. Interview data can both illustrate and illuminate questionnaire results and can "bring your research study to life" (p. 82). Indeed, questionnaires lend themselves to follow-up retrospective research (for recent discussions of 'stimulated recall' techniques, see Gass & Mackey, 2000; Kasper, 1998; Kormos, 1998) in which participants are asked to go through their own responses with an interviewer and provide retrospective comments on the reason for their particular answer in each item. Thus, in this design the participant's own item responses serve as prompts for further open-ended reflection and, at the same time, the coverage of all the items ensures systematicity and comprehensiveness.

Reversing the process, questionnaires can also be used in the preparatory phase of a qualitative interview study in sampling the interviewees systematically. One general concern about interview studies is the somewhat ad hoc nature of participant selection; however, this concern could be eliminated by applying another type of two-phase design in which the first phase involves the administration of a short questionnaire to a substantial sample, and on the basis of the responses the researcher identifies certain individuals who represent either typical or extreme cases from certain key aspects of the study. These people will then be invited to participate in the second, qualitative interview phase.

Finally, we should also note that although in this section I have only described the application of questionnaires in qualitative-quantitative 'mixed methodology' designs (because I believe that this combination has great potential for future research as it can bring out the best of both approaches while neutralizing the shortcomings and bi-

ases inherent in each paradigm), survey questionnaires can be integrated into several other research methods, for example to collect background information about the participants in an experimental study or to complement classroom observation data. In fact, the recent advocacy of the integrated use of multiple data collection methods, in line with the general concept of 'triangulation,' has created a fertile ground for the increased use of professionally designed questionnaires as psychometrically sound measuring instruments.

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