15.13 Self-Administered

A survey questionnaire is mailed to each member in the sample or is posted online, and respondents choose to fill it out and return it.

  • Advantages:

    • least expensive method because it takes fewer personnel to administer

    • able to cover a wide geographic area

    • allows anonymity to the respondents (which encourages candid responses)

    • requires a less skilled staff to administer

  • Disadvantages:

    • response rate is usually very low because respondents forget to respond, throw it out or delete it, ignore the request or fail to complete the questionnaire

    • no way to know who filled out the questionnaire unless one of the questions specifically asks for that information. (For instance, a questionnaire intended for a corporate executive might be filled out by his or her secretary.)

    • results may be skewed because only those people who were really interested in the topic of the survey took the time to fill out the questionnaire which introduces bias into the results.

    • big issue with polls on a web page – if the population for a survey is only those people who visit a particular web page, then the people with an interest in that web page (and in the topic of the particular survey) will be overrepresented. Typically, these types of polls are conducted more for fun or to prompt reader interaction, but they are not at all scientific.

Evaluating self-administered survey data:

  • What was the response rate? (The lower the response, the less reliable the results)

  • Were follow-up questionnaires sent to those who failed to respond the first time?

  • How self-explanatory were the instructions to the respondents?

    • The self-administered questionnaire obviously does not allow the respondent to ask questions of the poll-takers, so clear instructions to the respondent are crucial.