Prof Martyn Denscombe, author of “The Good Research Guide, 6th edition”, gives expert advice on using a questionnaire survey for your postgraduate dissertation.

Questionnaire surveys are a well-established way of collecting data. They can be used with relatively small-scale research projects, and research questionnaires can be designed and delivered quite quickly and cheaply. It is not surprising, therefore, that when it comes to conducting research for a master’s dissertation, questionnaire surveys feature prominently as the method of choice.

Occasionally such surveys will be sent out by post, and sometimes the questionnaires will be distributed by hand. But the popularity of questionnaire surveys in the context of master’s dissertations is principally due to the benefits of using online web-based questionnaires. There are two main aspects to this.

First, the software for producing and delivering web questionnaires, with their features such as drop-down menus and tick-box answers, is user-friendly and inexpensive.

Second, online surveys make it possible to contact people across the globe without travelling anywhere which, given the time and resource constraints faced when producing a dissertation, makes online surveys all the more enticing. (And, for the more adventurous students, there are also developing possibilities for the use of social media such as Facebook and SMS texts for contacting people to participate in the survey.)

In the context of a master’s dissertation, however, the quality of the survey data is a vital issue. The grade for the dissertation will depend on being able to defend the use of the data from the survey as the basis for advanced, master’s level academic enquiry. Which means it is not good enough to simply rely on getting 100 or so people to complete your questionnaire. Students are expected to be aware of the pros and cons of questionnaire surveys and to be able to justify the value of the data they have collected in the face of probing questions such as:

  • Who are the respondents and how they were selected?
  • How representative are the respondents of the whole group being studied?
  • What response rate was achieved by the survey?
  • Are the questions suitable in relation to the topic and the particular respondents?
  • What likelihood is there that respondents gave honest answers to the questions?

This is where The Good Research Guide, 6th edition becomes so valuable.

It not only identifies the key points that need to be addressed in order to conduct a competent questionnaire survey, it gets right to the heart of the matter with plenty of practical guidance on how to deal with the issues. In a straightforward style, using plain language, this bestselling book covers a range of alternative strategies and methods for conducting small-scale social research projects and outlines some of the main ways in which the data can be analysed.

Next Steps

Read Prof Martyn Denscombe’s advice on using a Case Study for your postgraduate dissertation