Self-Administered Questionnaire


The self-administered questionnaire is a type of questionnaire, either in paper or electronic form, that a respondent completes on his/her own.

Relevant Characteristics

A questionnaire is a survey method that utilizes a standardized set of questions, which allow respondents' answers to be systematically compared and/or contrasted. Questionnaires must be designed carefully, as to ensure clarity.
Questions may be designed to measure dichotomous responses (e.g. yes/no or true/false), interval responses (i.e. the Likert scale), or semantic differential responses (e.g. 'never', 'sometimes', or 'always').[1] Open-ended questions can be used in questionnaires; however, statistically analyzing these types of questions may be more difficult and time consuming.[2] Open-ended questionnaires may also require participants to be at a higher literacy level than multiple choice answers.

Self-administered questionnaires enable researchers to reach a large number of potential respondents in a variety of locations, especially when utilizing mail-in responses or online questionnaires. However, the response rate for self-administered surveys is relatively low, compared to other methods such as interviews or researcher-administered questionnaires. If the researcher is dependent on survey data to support his/her research question, or is looking to reach a targeted number of responses,then a much higher volume of questionnaires must be distributed to account of the low return rate.

The self-administered questionnaire can be exploratory in nature and serve as a starting point for other methodologies. Questionnaires can include a option for participants to indicate if they would like to participate in a follow-up interview, which allows the researcher the opportunity to further explore the research question by collecting qualitative data.

“Method Made Easy”

Self-administered questionnaires can be conducted in individual or group settings by using various forms of paper and electronic media. 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 (e.g. drop-box)
  • 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
When selecting a research population, researchers must take into account their participants' literacy rate, computer skills, and Internet access.

Computer-based questionnaires have the advantage of streamlining a potentially complex series of questions. For example: If the directions for Question #5 instruct participants to "proceed to Question #6 if their answer is 'no' and skip to question Question "7, if their answer is 'yes'", then a participant may unnecessarily answer Question #6, which may also alter data during the analysis process. This confusion can be eliminated with computer-based questionnaires. The researcher can design the survey to redirect participants to the appropriate next question based on their previous answer.[3]


• Questionnaires can be distributed to a large number of people at a relatively low cost, which increases 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.