The use of questionnaires is an information-gathering technique that allows systems analysts to study attitudes, beliefs, behavior, and characteristics of several key people in the organization who may be affected by the current and proposed systems. Attitudes are what people in the organization say they want (in a new system, for instance); beliefs are what people think is actually true; behavior is what organizational members do; and characteristics are properties of people or things.
Responses gained through questionnaires (also called surveys) using closed questions can be quantified. If you are surveying people via email or the Web, you can use software to turn electronic responses directly into data tables for analysis using a spreadsheet application or statistical software packages. Responses to questionnaires using open-ended questions are analyzed and interpreted in other ways. Answers to questions on attitudes and beliefs are sensitive to the wording chosen by the systems analyst.
Through the use of questionnaires, the analyst may be seeking to quantify what was found in interviews. In addition, questionnaires may be used to determine how widespread or limited a sentiment expressed in an interview really is. Conversely, questionnaires can be used to survey a large sample of system users to sense problems or raise important issues before interviews are scheduled.
Throughout this chapter, we compare and contrast questionnaires with interviews. There are many similarities between the two techniques, and perhaps the ideal would be to use them in conjunction with each other, either following up unclear questionnaire responses with an interview or designing the questionnaire based on what is discovered in the interview. Each technique, however, has its own specific functions, and it is not always necessary or desirable to use both.
Planning for the Use of Questionnaires
At first glance questionnaires may seem to be a quick way to gather massive amounts of data about how users assess the current system, about what problems they are experiencing with their work, and about what people expect from a new or modified system. Although it is true that you can gather a lot of information through questionnaires without spending time in face-to-face interviews, developing a useful questionnaire takes extensive planning time in its own right. When you decide to survey users via email or the Web, you face additional planning considerations concerning confidentiality, authentication of identity, and problems of multiple responses.
You must first decide what you are attempting to gain through using a survey. For instance, if you want to know what percentage of users prefers a FAQ page as a means of learning about new software packages, a questionnaire might be the right technique. If you want an in-depth analysis of a manager’s decision-making process, an interview is a better choice.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether the use of questionnaires is appropriate. Consider using questionnaires if:
- The people you need to question are widely dispersed (different branches of the same corporation).
- A large number of people are involved in the systems project, and it is meaningful to know what proportion of a given group (for example, management) approves or disapproves of a particular feature of the proposed system.
- You are doing an exploratory study and want to gauge overall opinion before the systems project is given any specific direction.
- You wish to be certain that any problems with the current system are identified and addressed in follow-up interviews.
Once you have determined that you have good cause to use a questionnaire and have pinpointed the objectives to be fulfilled through its use, you can begin formulating questions.
- Interviewing in Information Gathering
- Five Steps in Interview Preparation
- Open-Ended and Closed Type Interview Questions
- Arranging Interview Questions in a Logical Sequence
- Joint Application Design (JAD) in Information Gathering
- Using Questionnaires in Information Gathering
- Writing Questions for Questionnaires
- Using Scales in Questionnaires
- Designing and Administering the Questionnaires