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Sociology Postal Questionnaires

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“Examine the problems some sociologists find using postal questionnaires in their research” (20 marks) There are various issues with using postal questionnaires as part of research if you are a sociologist. This will demonstrate the ways in which questionnaires can be considered a problem when it comes to research.
Firstly, by sending out questionnaires to people could mean that the response rate is low as people don’t have the time to fill them in because of work, or they don’t think it’s relevant, some may not even acknowledge it. Therefore, this can affect the results and the sample would be unrepresentative as there wouldn’t be enough replies of the questionnaires for them to be able to produce representative data and generalise to the society. Also, people who respond to these questionnaires are unlikely to be in full time employment so this could make the results bias and therefore make generalisation difficult because the sample again wouldn’t be representative because of this. If you were to gain a higher response rate then it would allow the sociologists to carry on with further research such as sending out follow up letters and collecting them by hand, but also these could be generated by incentives such as prises. This then shows how a low response rate can be a big issue when using postal questionnaires.
Another problem is questionnaires are social desirability. People who receive the questionnaire may look at the questions and begin to think that they don’t want inform the sociologist with the correct information so then they lie, or they could answer questions and forget to write detail of other things which they can’t remember. Some would possibly just respond in a more sociable way so they can avoid being judged by the researcher as they may believe that what they want to put is insufficient or not appropriate. However, by doing this it can cause the results to have low validity as you can’t be 100% sure that the results are reliable. So sending out questionnaires can allow sociologists to find the completely wrong results, resulting in how it would cost them more money and time to sort it out and find another way to get answer without social desirability affecting the findings.
An issue with postal questionnaires are the person receiving it doesn’t have any contact with the researcher therefore, if they were to come across a question in which they didn’t understand they wouldn’t be able to clarify it with them. This can mean then that the person may misinterpret the question and write down insufficient information which can affect the results of a questionnaire as this can lead to low response rate because even though they are receiving the questionnaire back it has to be eliminated as the answers are not within the question. Cultural or language differences can also cause problems of this nature because people may not understand what the researcher is asking for and vice versa. Therefore using postal questionnaires is a problem because having no contact with the researcher can result in losing money, time and also the chance of the replier completing another because of them miswording or using specialist jargon in the questions which they intend to use on the questionnaire.
Furthermore, another issue with postal questionnaires is that you can’t guarantee that the person you sent the questionnaire to was the person who filled it out. Therefore, this can affect the reliability of the results because if a sociologist was asking certain types of people with a specific profession, etc to respond to the questionnaire then if the person filled it out who isn’t in that profession may answer the questions incorrectly or not write down what the sociologist is looking for as their knowledge in that area or expertise isn’t very big because they don’t know anything as it wasn’t them who was supposed to respond. So affecting the reliability of the results is another problem with using postal questionnaires as part of research when you are a sociologist.
A common problem when using postal questionnaires as part of research is the sociologist has already chosen the questionnaires before the person who it has been distributed to has looked at it and this means that the sociologist has already pre-decided what is important and what isn’t, therefore other information in which the respondent wanted to put couldn’t and it may have been relevant to what the researcher was looking for. So this can allow people to fill them in briefly as they don’t think the questions asked are the most important unlike the researcher. Also by using closed questions the respondent is forced to fit their views to the ones on offer and this can affect the results and produce a distorted view of reality as what they answered with isn’t what they truly believe and it may not come close the what their real opinion/ answer is. So using postal questionnaires can be a problem with it comes to setting the questions up.
Lastly, interpretivists would argue that questionnaires lack validity as they don’t provide a true picture of what is being studied. Also, they would argue that we need methods that allow peoples meanings to be studied such a participant observation. Another thing they would argue is that questionnaires are more likely to reveal the researchers own meanings than reveal the respondent so this can affect the validity of the results. So interpretivists don’t agree with using postal questionnaires because of the reasons mentioned above.
In conclusion, there are various problems with postal questionnaires which some can be avoided but others would always be a problem and nothing would be able to fix completely. Therefore using postal questionnaires can be a good idea to some extent but then they can also affect your whole set of results. So they should be avoided unless you can guarantee to get a set of them without tons of problems.…...

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