Questioning methods


Questioning methods

A very common way of getting around the classic experimental problem is to ask the target person questions, rather than directly trying to manipulate them. This assumes they can answer fully, honestly and without bias.


Surveys ask respondents to fill in a form by themselves. Traditionally on paper, they are often now done on the internet. They may ask the respondent about attitudes, events, beliefs and so on.
Surveys are often standardized, in that the questions are tested and calibrated beforehand.Psychometric instruments evaluate individual differences, comparing them against a standardized scale.
Surveys, although qualitative in subject-matter, often give quantitative data that may be statistically analyzed.

Structured interviewing

Structured interviews are little more than researcher-read survey questions. What this does allow for is clarification of what questions mean, branching in the survey and the use of careful probing.

Open interviewing

Open interviewing is a looser method and may resemble a ‘general chat’, although the interviewer has an agenda and will try to steer things in the ‘right’ direction whilst avoiding a forced situation.
Open interviewing is also known as life history interviewing or unstructured interviewing.


A big problem with questions is that it requires self-reporting and thus is affected by the respondent’s views.
Interviewing directly includes the researcher in the process and their bias might creep in. Social desirability and other effects that change how respondents behave can also creep in.
Surveys remove the researcher to a remote position. This can still lead to bias and other effects. It also means

Observational methods

The lowest amount of control is applied in methods where the researcher has the role of ‘witness’, carefully not intruding and perhaps remaining hidden such that the target does not know they are being observed (and hence giving them no reason to change how they behave).
Participant observation includes methods where the researcher may watch people in natural surroundings, converse with them about ‘what it’s like’, take photographs and even live in the same circumstance to get some sense of the experiences.


Whilst observational method minimize the chance of bias, they are pretty singular experiences and depend on the observational powers of the researcher as well as their ability to be fully objective (which can be difficult when they would like to report something interesting). This makes it difficult to generalize conclusions to wider contexts, a factor that prevents any reliable ‘laws’ from being identified.