Practice Question – Analyse the limitations of Quantitative methods in Social research (UPSC 2013) . Write Short note on Limitations of Questionnaire as a technique of data collection (UPSC 1999).

Approach – Introduction, Define Questionnaire method, Write its relevance, Give challenges and limitations, Conclusion.



A questionnaire is a list of pre-set questions to which the participants are asked to answer. A written questionnaire will require the participant to answer the questions in writing. A spoken questionnaire is an interview. Questionnaire is a data collection instrument. The researchers most commonly use this method for collecting data. In order to gather data on a particular research topic, the researcher lists the questions to which s/he requires answers. The list of questions grouped in some order is either given personally, or sent / mailed to the target population.



1) Determining the scope of the questionnaire;
2) Deciding the type of questions (close ended or open ended) to be asked;
3) Preparing the draft questionnaire;
4) Pretesting the questionnaire with a sample population;
5) Revising the questionnaire according to the suggestions received;
6) Distributing the questionnaire;
7) Sending reminders to the population under study;
8) Receiving the responses;
9) Analysing and interpreting the data received; and
10) Writing the report.



Understandably great care is required in formulating the questions. Reliable and meaningful returns depend to a large on this. Even when factual information is to be secured, certain precautions relating to phrasing of questions are necessary. Even greater care must be exercised when opinions are to be obtained. Since words are likely to affect responses, respondents with limited vocabularies are likely to be suggestive. If questions are beyond the comprehension of the respondent, he may just choose one of the alternative responses without any idea as to the meaning of his response.

Questions which belong together should be arranged so. When the question is dependent upon the answer to the preceding one, it should be given a subordinate place. Paying due attention to the appearance of the questionnaire will avoid many errors and ensure a higher percentage of usable returns than would be obtained from a poorly-arranged questionnaire.



Open Ended Questions
Open-ended questions give liberty to the respondents to express their views. They give tremendous freedom to the respondents to answer according to their interpretation.

Advantages of open questionnaires

  • The participant isn’t limited by set answers, so they can express what they really mean and explain why they think this.
  • The interviewer can follow up with more questions, meaning you get richer data.
  • In general you get richer data because the answers will be longer and more in depth.

Disadvantages of open questionnaires

  • You get qualitative data, which is hard to quantify and analyse.
  • This makes it hard to compare one set of data with another.
  • The interviewer has to interpret the data, and they could interpret it differently to how the participant meant it.

Closed questionnaires – are very structured with the participant having a few set answers to choose from.

Advantages of closed questionnaires

  • Quick to complete.
  • Data is quantitative so easy to analyse and compute.
  • They allow comparisons to be made with other sets of data.
  • The research is easy to repeat.

Disadvantages of closed questionnaires

  • You cannot explain a questionnaire to a participant so it could be confusing.
  • You cannot follow up with extra questions to gain richer data.
  • The participant might not agree with any of the answers they have to choose from.


  •  Easier and quicker to collect data. Through this method large amount of data can be generated in short span of time.
     Direct responses can be obtained.
     Information received is quantifiable. Quantitative as well as qualitative responses can be procured. Back ground information of the respondents, which is otherwise difficult to obtain, could be collected.
     Empirical data can be collected
     Cost effective
     Response from a large population can be received covering a wide geographical area.
     High rate of response can be generated from educated population.
     Respondents get a chance to prepare and revise their answers before finally answering the questionnaire.
     Researchers also get a chance though pretest to revise the final questionnaire.
     Responses are easy to analyse and tabulate.
     Questionnaire method provides the respondents to express their views on any given topic freely.
     Questionnaire has a fixed format with a given number of questions. This helps in eliminating variation in questioning process.


  •  Difficult to receive adequate response rate. People are in the habit of not filing and returning in time.
     Reliability of data can be questioned
     Truthful answers cannot be ascertained.
     It is time-consuming activity, which includes preparation, pre-test, revision, distribution and sending reminders adding to time and cost of data collection.
     Incomplete answers also cause problem during analysis stage.
     Researcher cannot observe the respondents reaction at the time of filling up of the questionnaire.
     The questions can be wrongly interpreted which can affect the analysis.
     Assumptions of the researchers for certain things may prove opposite to the respondents perceptions.
     Technical jargon/ professional terminology may play havoc for the respondents. It may be possible that the questionnaire is returned with substantial number of unanswered questions.
     Complex worded questions also fetch poor results.
     There is a possibility that the questionnaire may be biased. It may not have included certain important questions though are very useful otherwise, due to the lop-sided preference of the researcher.
     Verification of the accuracy of the responses received from questionnaires might be difficult.
     Potential respondents may become discouraged by getting ill prepared questionnaires.

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