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Self-Administered Paper Questionnaires

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What are Self-Administered Paper Questionnaires?

A self-administered paper questionnaires is a tool used for the purpose of data collection that involves the use of paper questionnaires that are handed or mailed to respondents to be filled out and then submitted to the surveyor. Despite the introduction of more innovative survey research methodologies such as the telephone survey and internet survey, self-administered questionnaires are still widely used today.

Within this article, we will explore the different strengths and weaknesses of this methodology and will also go over the implementations of selection and design that can be leveraged to improve the quantity and quality of the results of self-administered paper questionnaires.

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Advantages of Self-Administered Paper Questionnaires

The following are a few key advantages of self-administered paper questionnaires:

  • Increased Anonymity: The most common type of self-administered paper questionnaires is the mail survey. Due to the absence of an interviewer, this method has a high degree of perceived anonymity, helping generate a more accurate measure of respondent opinions and behaviours relative to survey modes that involve an interviewer. 
  • Respondents have more Control: Another key advantage of this survey method is that respondents have more control and can complete the survey at their own pace.
  • Increased Autonomy: Individuals and organizations that have access to word processing equipment can create and deploy their own questionnaires rather than having to employ professional survey organizations, as is generally required for web surveys and telephone surveys.  

Disadvantages of Self-Administered Paper Questionnaires

The following are a few key disadvantages of self-administered paper questionnaires:

  • Lack of Guidance: Although the absence of an interviewer can have its advantages, it also has a few disadvantages. Respondents cannot seek guidance and therefore any instructions or meanings cannot be clarified. 
  • Branching Instructions are Difficult to Employ: Researchers are generally reluctant to use branding instructions in paper questionnaires as they often lead to confusion, elongated questionnaires, and item nonresponse. 
  • Expensive: Mail surveys were initially considered to be be inexpensive as they were being compared to survey methods such as face-to-face interviews. However, when comparing mail surveys to newer survey methods that have been introduced in the last few decades, such as web surveys, they are more expensive to implement.

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Coverage Error Concerns

A prominent concern when using mail surveys has to do with obtaining the right random sample of respondents from the target population. It may sometimes be difficult obtaining comprehensive lists with addresses of the population of interest, making it hard to administer these surveys to large, heterogeneous populations without accumulating systematic coverage error. 

Coverage error at the sample stage can be eliminated for groups of individuals for whom complete sampling frames exist. Therefore, countries and target audiences that have complete lists of people and residences available are less likely to deal with this issue. 

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Mixed-Mode Surveys

With the technological advancements within these last few decades, more alternatives to mail have been introduced. This includes methods such as telephone and web surveys that are now sometimes used with mail in a mixed-mode context. As it is easy and inexpensive to move text documents from one file to another, the use of mixed-mode surveys with a mail component is being used increasingly worldwide. It is important to note, however, that the increased use of mixed-mode surveys can introduce certain methodological concerns including measurement variations across the different modes of communication. 

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Decreasing Non-Response Error in Mail Surveys

When conducting mail surveys, as with any other type of survey, one of the goals is to avoid nonresponse errors. Non-response error refers to the magnitude of differences in measured characteristics between those in the sample that responded to the survey and those in the sample that didn’t. 

The most straightforward way to decrease nonresponse error is to obtain a higher response rate as it increases the likelihood that the group that responded is representative of the target population. 

The following are two effective strategies that are generally used to achieve higher response rates: 

  1. Increasing the number of contacts made: When more people are contacted, it is likely that a higher number of responses will be obtained. 
  2. Including token cash incentives: Respondents are more likely to complete a survey when provided an incentive to do so. 

FAQs on Self-Administered Paper Questionnaires

There are two key strategies that are effective at achieving higher response rates in mail surveys; increasing the number of contacts made and providing respondents with token cash incentives.

Some advantages of self-administered questionnaires are that they have increased anonymity, respondents have more control over the pace at which they complete the survey, and surveyors have more autonomy over the process of drafting and deploying the survey.

Some disadvantages of self-administered paper questionnaires are that there is a lack of guidance due to the absence of interviewers and branching questions are difficult to employ. Additionally, this survey method is more expensive when compared to web surveys.

Non-response error is the systematic difference in the measured characteristics between those in the sample that responded to the survey and those in the sample that didn’t.

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