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Questionnaire, which Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines as “a set of questions for submission to number of persons to get data”, is a data collection technique or instrument for gathering information from a potentially large number of respondents. It was invented by Sir Francis Galton (1883-1911). As a type of methodological approach, when respondents are required to complete the questionnaire by him/herself, questionnaire is also known as the Self-Administered Survey. Depending on the method administration, there are a number of sampling frame considerations, and the sample bias as well.


When to use a questionnaire?

The choice can be made based on a variety of factors including the type of information to be gathered and the available resources. Following circumstances should be concerned when using a questionnaire:

  • When resources and money are limited.
  • When it is necessary to protect the privacy of the participants.
  • When corroborating other findings.





Used in Library Science and Reference Work


Usually, questionnaire is a feasible way to reach a number of reviewers large enough to allow statistically analysis of the results. It may be designed to gather either qualitative or quantitative data, but quantitative questions are more exact than qualitative ones, thus require more care in design, administration, and interpretation. A well-designed questionnaire that is used effectively can gather information on both the overall performance of the test system as well as information on specific components of the system. If the questionnaire includes demographic questions on the participants, they can be used to correlate performance and satisfaction with the test system among different groups of users.


The questionnaire first known to have been used by a library researcher to gather data about libraries is in the “Description of Various Libraries in Europe” ((Blumenschein, 1781), an Eighteenth-Century Study of European Libraries by Adalbert Blumenschein (1720-1781). Not have been used for his entire work, the small questionnaire is constructed by nine “free-answer” questions about the contents and physical characteristics of a library at the monastery at Engelhartszell in Austria, which was documented in his “Beschreibung”and then sent to readers to answer in stead of a conversation manner (Walker, T. 1994).


Generally, when used in library and information science, questionnaire (along with interview and observation) (Powell, R. 1991), is used as one of the most important data collection techniques for quantitative research methods, which involve a problem-solving approach that is highly structured in nature and that relies on the quantification of concept, where possible, for purposes of measurement and evaluation. (Glazier & Powell, 1992, p. xi). Questionnaires are often suited to gathering reliable subjective measures, collecting data to assess/evaluate performance, ability, knowledge, behavior (Powell, R. 1991), as well as the evaluation of user satisfaction, and the system or interface in question. It “remains the principal means used to learn about what is happening in librarians”, and works as an instrument for “producing trustworthy information in a library context”. While used in the assessment in the library reference work , according to Martin, L, Strife, L. & Griswold, S. (1992), questionnaire can be “the best way to obtain present attitudes and opinions about relatively simple phenomena”. A difficulty of questionnaire is related to inconsistent associations between questionnaire measures and actual behaviors. More additional or “truly” facts may possibly be found in the observation. Thus, the questionnaire survey can be used to “study attitude, but not behavior”in the assessment in Reference Work.




Questionnaires Processing


Steps for questionnaire design and administration:

  • Defining the Objectives of the survey, including problems to be addressed, evaluation objectivity, and information needs.
  • Determining the Sampling Group, identifying the potential respondents or subjects (Powell, R. 1991).
  • Writing the Questionnaire. Questionnaires are versatile, allowing the collection of both subjective and objective data through the use of open or closed format questions.
  • Administering the Questionnaire
  • Interpretation of the Results


Questionnaire Research Flow Chart

(StatPac Inc.


Type of questions

  • Based on different kinds of information needs, the major type of questions includes the followings (Powell, R. ed. 1991):
  1. Factual questions: the most straightforward type of questionnaire item, including questions used to ascertain such things such as the respondents’ age, gender, etc.
  2. Opinion and attitude questions: more subjective questions and more difficult to validate externally. They are questions intended to determine a person’s ideas orinclinations, etc.
  3. Information questions: question designed to measure the respondent’s knowledge about some topic, requiring the greatest response time.
  4. Self-perception questions: questions used to attitude questions, but restricted to one’s opinions about himself.
  5. Standards of action questions: questions used to determine how respondents would act in certain circumstance.
  6. Questions about past or present behavior: behavior questions tend to be rather subjective but usually more valid when they become more specific.


  • Based on different format of questions, the major type of questions includes:
  1. Open-ended questions: No options or predefined categories are suggested. The respondent supplies their own answer without being constrained by a fixed set of possible responses. Examples of types of open ended questions include: Completely unstructured, word association, story completion, etc..
  2. Closed- Ended Questions: respondents’ answers are limited to a fixed set of responses. Most scales are closed ended. Other types of closed ended questions include:
    1. Dichotomous questions - The respondent answers with a “yes” or a “no”.
    2. Multiple choice - The respondent has several option from which to choose.




Advantages of Questionnaires


  1. Since easier for the researcher to guarantee anonymity for the respondent, the questionnaire tends to encourage frank answers and can be a quite effective at measuring attitude, also, it can help to eliminate interviewer bias.
  2. The fixed format of the questionnaire tends to eliminate variation in the questioning process, so that quantitative data are relatively easy to collect and analyze.
  3. Participants are allowed to be completed at the leisure of themselves (especially in the postal questionnaire and web-based questionnaire), which encourages well-thought-out, while on the other hand, at the risk of sampling bias.
  4. Questionnaires can facilitate the collection of large amount of data in a relatively short period of time.
  5. Last but not least, questionnaires are usually relatively inexpensive to administer.





Disadvantages of Questionnaires


While the advantages of the questionnaire seem to outweigh the disadvantages (Powell R., ed. 1991), there are several of the latter that should be mentioned here:


  1. Use of postal questionnaire or web-based questionnaire eliminates personal contact between the researcher and the respondent. However, this can also be seen as an advantage which eliminates the interviewer bias from the questionnaire process.
  2. The questionnaire does not permit the respondent to qualify answers to ambiguous questions, or makes it more difficult.
  3. Based on relative study that persons who are highly opinioned regarding the subject of a questionnaire are more likely than others to be motivated enough to complete and return it. Besides that, questionnaire may be more difficult for uneducated participants to complete; these phenomenons tend to result in a biased sample or return.




Questionnaire Quality Control


Good questionnaire construction is critical to the success of a survey. Inappropriate questions, incorrect ordering of questions, incorrect scaling, or bad questionnaire format can make the survey valueless.


In most forms of questionnaire research (self-administered surveys), there is no control over who actually fills out the questionnaire. Also, the respondent may very well read part or the entire questionnaire before filling it out, thus potentially biasing his/her responses.


Especially when used in library research, Bookstein, A. points out that the questionnaire research will easily fall into two large categories: “sampling faults” and “response faults” (Bookstein, A., 1985). The most obvious impediment corresponding to sampling fault is the small return rate that usually associated with questionnaires, which is also the most important disadvantages of questionnaire research (self-administered survey). Although there is no real solution to the problem of nonresponse, library researchers are also encouraged to treat the respondents and nonrespondents as “forming strata”, and “make a special effort to get responses from a subsample of the stratum of nonrespondents”, using “the formulae of stratified random sampling” to combine the results.Response Faults occur when respondents do fill out the questionnaire but differently than they ought to have. The “question interpretation”, “response decision making” by respondents and their “category choices” bears direct relationship with this kind of source fault. Solutions for this problem include permitting strength of feeling to be expressed while wording questions, and/or asking questions in a more explicitly way, etc..






  • Powell, R.R. (1991). Basic Research Methods for Librarians.(2nd ed., pp.53-81). Ablex: Norwood.


  • Bookstein, A. (1985). Questionnaire Research in a Library Setting. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 11(1), 24-29


  • Walker, T. (1994). The First Use of a Library Questionnaire: Adalbert Blumenschein's Eighteenth-Century Study of European Libraries. Library & information science research, 16(1), 59 -66


  • Calvert, P. (2005). Telephone survey research for library managers. Library management, 26(3), 139 -151


  • Kidston, J. (1985). The Validity of Questionnaire Responses. The library quarterly, 55(2), 133


  • Bookstein, A., Lindsay, A.(1989). Questionnaire Ambiguity: A Rasch Scaling Model Analysis. Library Trends, 38(2), 215


  • Blandy, S., Martin, L.& Strife, M.(1992). Assessment and accountability in reference work. New York : Haworth Press.


  • Macclure, C., Hernon, P. (1991). Library and Information Science Research: perspectives and strategies for improvement. Ablex Publishing Corporation.


  • Slater, M. (ed)(1990). Research methods in library and information studies. London:The Library Association.


  • Colorado State University.(1981). Questionnaire for Library Users. In User Surveys and Evaluation of Library Services. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies.


  • Riverside, University of California at.(1981). Use of Library Services Questionnaire. In User Surveys and Evaluation of Library Services (SPEC Kit 71, p. 1-12). Washington D.C: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies.




See Also



Weiying Teng

Nov. 2006