This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 01 table of contents.

Questionnaires, Surveys, and Polls

One of the easiest forms of data collection is administering a questionnaire. The underlying process is very similar to taking a poll. Professionals usually conduct surveys and polls, while amateurs often administer questionnaires. Questionnaire research is one of the most common types of research conducted by undergraduates. Business majors, sociology majors, political science majors, psychology majors, and many others might be asked to design and administer a questionnaire, sometime in their careers.

When is critical thinking "especially necessary"?

Critical thinking is especially necessary when dealing with questionnaire research. Questionnaires seem so simple, yet questionnaire research is potentially very weak. It relies on self-reports. The questions are often "made up" and never subjected to the type of validity testing used with standardized tests that are sold commercially.

A questionnaire is always intended to tell researchers about some group, which we can call the target population. If the target population is small (for example, students in a classroom) you can give the questionnaire to every person in the target population. Then you do not need to worry about whether your sample (the group which contributes data) represents the target population.

What is the "target population"? What is the "sample"?

However, if the target population is large-for example, if you wish to learn about the opinions of all the students at your school-then you are probably limited to collecting data from a smaller sample of that population. Laws of probability insure that if you take a random sample , the sample will represent the larger population with a known level of accuracy. In other words, the sample may not give you results that are perfectly accurate, but if it is a random sample, you can use statistics to calculate its level of precision or accuracy.

What is random sampling?

The words "random sample" have a very specific meaning in survey research. They mean every member of the target population has an equal chance of being selected. Lotteries and raffles, when properly conducted, illustrate random sampling. Raffle tickets are drawn from a big drum that mixes them up thoroughly, so everybody who enters has an equal chance of winning. Another way of expressing this is to say the process is unbiased .

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey