Survey Methods & Ethical Considerations

Survey Methods & Ethical Considerations

Questionnaires are an efficient and standardised way of collecting information. They consist of a series of questions to which the respondent must supply an answer. Questionnaires are usually printed and can be distributed to a large number of people. The style of the questions will depend on the kind of information you are hoping to gather.

Closed questions are questions to which there can only be one of a number of limited responses e.g. yes/no/maybe. A questionnaire that contains closed questions is easy to analyse statistically and the answers can be represented easily in a bar chart. There is the danger, however, that respondents will be slapdash in the way they answer the questions, simply because it is easy to tick the boxes very quickly. Also, respondents won’t be able to expand on their answers.

Open questions give the respondent the opportunity to write individual and sometimes detailed responses to the questions. This approach does make life more difficult for the researcher who has to then collate all this information in some way. The wording of the questions has to be good so that the respondent understands exactly what is required of him. In both sorts of questionnaire the researcher is dependent on the respondent’s honesty.

Interviews involve either a face-to-face or telephone conversation between the interviewer and interviewee.

Structured interview: These can take on a structured quality i.e. all interviewees are asked exactly the same questions in exactly the same order. This approach makes the results easier to analyse but limits the detail of the response.

Unstructured interview: This means that the interview takes on a more conversational quality and the interviewer has more range to open up the line of questioning. This approach may help the researcher learn new unexpected information. The results however are far harder to analyse and are therefore more time consuming. In an unstructured interview the interviewer needs to be skilled at keeping the flow of conversation going. In both cases the researcher is reliant on the respondent giving honest answers.


Ethical considerations in research

There are a number of ethical considerations you should be willing to respect when undertaking any kind of experimental research. These are outlined in The Code of Ethics and Conduct of the British Psychological Society (2006). These relate to

Confidentiality – so that the participants concerned cannot be identified in any way.

Informed consent – which means each of the participants know exactly what they’re getting involved with and are happy for the data they generate to be used in the study.

QualificationsPsychologists should offer only professional advice in circumstances where they are qualified to do so.

Professional integrity – Psychologists should be fair and truthful in their dealings with participants and not subject them to danger, unless the potential harm is deemed to be justified by the potential outcome.