Self-Administered Questionnaire


The self-administered questionnaire is a questionnaire that a respondent completes on his/her own, either on paper or via computer.

Relevant Characteristics

A questionnaire is a type of survey method that utilizes a standardized set or list of questions given to individuals or groups, the results of which can be consistently compared and contrasted. Care must be taken in the design of the questionnaires to ensure clarity. Questions may be designed to measure dichotomous responses (for example, yes /no or true/false questions), or responses on an interval level such as Likert scaling (bipolar 1-5 ratings) or by semantic differential scaling (bipolar adjective pairs, for example, the range of choices including “very interesting, somewhat interesting,” etc.).[1] Open-ended questions are also used in questionnaires, though these require more time to read and can be more difficult to statistically analyze.[2] Open-ended questionnaires may also require a higher literacy level than multiple choice answers.

Self-administered questionnaires offer researchers the potential to reach a large number of potential respondents in a variety of locations, especially by using mail-response or online questionnaires. However, the researcher must bear in mind that unlike interviewing respondents or administering a questionnaire in person, a high response rate is not likely, so if the researcher wants a targeted volume of responses, a much higher number of questionnaires must be distributed.

If the researcher would like to examine the questionnaire topic further, self-administered questionnaires can include an option for respondents to indicate whether they would be willing to be contacted for a follow-up interview in which to discuss the topic in more depth. Thus, the self-administered questionnaire can be exploratory in nature, and serve as a starting point for other methodologies.

“Method Made Easy”

Self-administered questionnaires can be conducted in a number of ways, including individually, by mail, in group settings, online, and household drop-off. Researchers can present potential respondents with the questionnaire in a variety of ways, including:
  • in person – the researcher can ask the respondents to deposit completed surveys in a designated location (a drop-box, for example)
  • through the mail (preferably including a pre-addressed, stamped envelope for return) – such questionnaires can be directly mailed to potential respondents, or picked up by potential respondents at a specific location;
  • online – questionnaire completion can be conducted through email or direction to a particular website

Care must be taken in identifying the target population when considering a self-administered questionnaire, as this method requires literacy and potentially computer/online access on the part of the respondents.

Computer-based questionnaires have the advantage of streamlining a potentially complex series of questions. For example, if directions for Question #5 on a paper survey instruct the respondent “If you answer ‘yes’ to Question #5, skip to Question #7, otherwise, proceed to Question #6,” this creates a potential for confusion on the part of the respondent. With a computer-based questionnaire, however, the survey should be designed so that upon answering Question #5, the appropriate next question will be given to the respondent.[3] Also, some computer-based questionnaires do not include question numbers (which might also present confusion to the respondent who notices they have skipped from Question #5 to Question #7).


• Questionnaires can be distributed to a large number of people, increasing the odds for a greater number of respondents
• Lower costs than interviewing
• Reduced interviewer bias
• “Social desirability” answers may be less of an issue


• Response rates can be low
• Possible clarity issues
• Possible language and literacy issues
• If online, possible access issues


Data from self-administered questionnaires are often analyzed using statistical software programs, such as SPSS.

Online Resources

Research Methods Knowledge Base

Further Reading

Angrosino, Michael V. 2002 Doing Cultural Anthropology: Projects for Ethnographic Data Collection. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.

Coreil, Jeannine, Debora L. Barnes-Josiah, Antoine Augustin, Michel Cayemittes (1996). Arrested Pregnancy Syndrome in Haiti: Findings from a National Survey. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 424-436

Olle Bälter, Olle and Katarina Augustsson Bälter (2005). Demands on Web Survey Tools for Epidemiological Research. European Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 20, No. 2 pp. 137-139.


Trochim, William K. (2006). Research Methods Knowledge Base

O’Brien, David (1997). “Questionnaire Design” report.

Bernard, Russell H. 2006 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

  1. ^ Trochim, William K. (2006). Research Methods Knowledge Base
  2. ^ O’Brien, David (1997). “Questionnaire Design” report.
  3. ^ Bernard, Russell H. 2006 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.