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One major disadvantage of written questionnaires is the possibility of low response rates. Low response is the curse of statistical analysis. It can dramatically lower our confidence in the results. Response rates vary widely from one questionnaire to another (10% - 90%), however, well-designed studies consistently produce high response rates.

Another disadvantage of questionnaires is the inability to probe responses. Questionnaires are structured instruments. They allow little flexibility to the respondent with respect to response format. In essence, they often lose the "flavor of the response" (i.e., respondents often want to qualify their answers). By allowing frequent space for comments, the researcher can partially overcome this disadvantage. Comments are among the most helpful of all the information on the questionnaire, and they usually provide insightful information that would have otherwise been lost.

Nearly ninety percent of all communication is visual. Gestures and other visual cues are not available with written questionnaires. The lack of personal contact will have different effects depending on the type of information being requested. A questionnaire requesting factual information will probably not be affected by the lack of personal contact. A questionnaire probing sensitive issues or attitudes may be severely affected.

When returned questionnaires arrive in the mail, it's natural to assume that the respondent is the same person you sent the questionnaire to. This may not actually be the case. Many times business questionnaires get handed to other employees for completion. Housewives sometimes respond for their husbands. Kids respond as a prank. For a variety of reasons, the respondent may not be who you think it is. It is a confounding error inherent in questionnaires.

Finally, questionnaires are simply not suited for some people. For example, a written survey to a group of poorly educated people might not work because of reading skill problems. More frequently, people are turned off by written questionnaires because of misuse.

 

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