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This learning object will introduce you to some of the features of research which you might need to do at university. You will learn about the difference between 'quantitative' and 'qualitative' research, how to conduct research using questionnaires, and some of the common problems which you need to avoid when collecting information from other people.

This resource is designed for anyone who is about to begin, or who is already doing, a course of undergraduate or postgraduate study, but it is particularly aimed at international students in the UK. It should take you about 30 minutes to complete.


Page 1

Research is a key area of university life, and something
you will spend many hours engaged in. It is a complex area,
and sometimes it may feel like the further you go into research,
the more there is to learn! Remember, practice makes perfect...

As part of your degree, whether it is undergraduate or
postgraduate, you will probably be taught many of the
basic things you need to know about research, and there
are many good sources of information available in your library, or online.

When you begin, you might come across the words
'quantitative' and 'qualitative' to describe research methods.
Although they are hard to pronounce, the difference between
them is really quite simple – quantitative methods are about
numbers, whereas qualitative methods are about feelings. If
you want to find out how many people from a sample like
carrots, for example, this is quantitative. If you wanted to
know why they liked carrots, you would need to use
qualitative methods.

Generally speaking, Questionnaires can be a good way to collect quantitative data, while interviews are often used for qualitative data. Of course, it is a little more complicated than this. Click next to look at the difference between questionnaires and interviews. NOW GO TO THE NEXT PAGE

Page 2

Activity 1 - Two common ways to conduct research are through interviews and written questionnaires. Each of these has
advantages and disadvantages. Select from the following sentences which ones are considered for each.

1. It takes a long time to carry out.

2. Not everyone will complete it.

3. Every question can be explained.

4. The respondent can think more before they give an answer.

5. The researcher can make sure all the answers fit the questions.

6. The respondent may give too much irrelevant information.

7. The researcher can control who and how many people respond to the questions.


For Interviews:

1. It takes a long time to carry out.

3. Every question can be explained.

5. The researcher can make sure all the answers fit the questions.

7. The researcher can control who and how many people respond to the questions.


For Written questionnaires:

2. Not everyone will complete it.

4. The respondent can think more before they give an answer.

6. The respondent may give too much irrelevant information.


Page 3 - Designing your Questions

If you want to gather reliable information, it is essential to think very carefully about your questions. If a question is unclear or badly worded, the information you collect may well be useless. A well designed question will be easy for the respondent to understand and will provide you with data which is relevant to the aims of your research.

There are many different types of question. For example, you might want students to rank their answer, from 1 - 5, or they may be allowed to select more than one option. Whatever type of question you choose, you should make sure your instructions are clear.

Click through to the next TWO activities to consider what is important when you design your questionnaire, and then to find out about some different types of question.


Page 4

Activity 2 -When you design a questionnaire, there are some important things to consider. Read what 7 students suggest and answer True or False in each case:

1. All of your questions need to relate to your aims. T/F


True. There is absolutely no point in making more work for yourself by analysing extra questions. The only purpose of your questionnaire is to find out what you want to know.

2. After designing your questionnaire, check that it covers all your aims. T/F


True. If not all your aims are covered, you need to include more questions.

3. You should always ask people their age, sex, marital status and occupation. T/F


False. These kinds of question are called DEMOGRAPHIC questions, and you only need to ask them if it’s relevant to your research. For example, sometimes you might want to compare men and women, perhaps on their attitudes to relationships. If you ask people about their experiences of doing an English course, it doesn’t really matter, unless one of your aims is to compare men and women.

4. Your questions should be easy to understand and to answer. T/F


True. If people answer your questionnaire it helps you with your research. If it takes a long time to complete, or your questions are too hard to understand, then people don’t want to answer them, and then you don’t get any information.

5. All of your questions should have a choice of answers. T/F


False. If you give people a choice of answers, it’s easy to analyse. You can always say 60% of people say X, 40% of people say Y. Although it takes longer to analyse, it’s sometimes good to ask people open questions, as they may give an answer you hadn’t thought of.

6. All research should be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative. T/F


False. The researcher needs to decide this based on their aims. Quantitative research is about finding out how much or how many- the quantity. Qualitative research is about finding out how good or bad something is- the quality. A lot of research will look at both points, but not all.

7. As soon as you finish writing you questionnaire, you should ask 100 people to complete it. T/F


False. It’s much better to carry out a TRIAL or PILOT. Ask three or four people to answer your questionnaire. At this stage you are really deep into your research, and it’s hard to predict which questions people find difficult to answer, but by doing a trial, you can usually find out.


Page 5 -

The following lifestyle questionnaire was given to a group of University students. The eight questions below are of different types. Match them to the descriptions given further down...

Q 1. How old are you?

? 18 - 21
? 22 - 25
? 26 - 29
? 30 and over

Q 2. Would you like to change anything about your lifestyle to improve your health?

? Yes (go to Q3) ? No (go to Q5)

Q 3. Put the following things you would like to change in order -
1 is your top priority, 4 is least important

? Diet
? Time spent on exercise
? Bad habits
? Level of stress

Q 4. What is your main motivation for wanting to change
your lifestyle?

? to get ill less often
? to have more energy
? to have a longer life
? to have a better body
? other

Q 5. How many portions of fruit and vegetables do you eat in a normal day?

? 0 ? 1 or 2 ? 3-6 ? more than 6

Q 6. What forms of exercise do you take that are good for your health in a normal week?
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Q 7. How often do you practice these bad habits?

  every day 3-6 times a week once or twice a week Less often or never
Smoke 5 or more cigarettes        
Drink until you feel drunk        
Eat fast food        




Q 8. Which of these do you feel are major causes of stress in your life? (tick as many as apply)

? Work for your studies
? Your job
? Your relationships
? Your home life
? Other _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Type of question they are above:

a. Multiple Choice (only 1 possible answer)

b. Ranking question

c. Scale question

d. Multiple choice (many possible answers)

e. Yes or no question

f. Demographic question

g. Open question

h. Group of multiple choice questions in a table


Q 1 is - f. Demographic question

Q 2 is - e. Yes or no question

Q 3 is - b. Ranking question

Q 4 is - a. Multiple Choice (only 1 possible answer)

Q 5 is - c. Scale question

Q 6 is - g. Open question

Q 7 is - h. Group of multiple choice questions in a table

Q 8 is - d. Multiple choice (many possible answers)


Page 6 - Trialling your questionnaire

A good researcher will always want to test their questionnaire before giving it to a large number of people. It is a good idea to find a small number of respondents who can trial your questionnaire. This is so you can find out if any of the questions are easy to misunderstand, ambiguous or do not give you the information in the way you require.


The next activity focusses on how to decide whether your questions are well designed and some common mistakes people make when designing questionnaires


Page 7 -

Activity 4 - These are the aims of your research:
1. To find out about how often students use different forms of public transport in London.
2. To find out students' opinions about London's public transport services.
3. To find out if it would be useful to give students any more information about these services.

Now look at the 6 questions below and decide which one out of the two types of question seems the most appropriate for your aims, and easy for the respondent to answer.


Question 1 -

Selection A. How often do you take the underground in London?
? all the time
? often
? sometimes
? not really


Selection B. 1. How often do you take the underground in London?
? 5- 7 days a week
? 2-4 days a week
? once a week or less
? never



Selection B is better, because everyone will answer in the same way. The options for selection A are too confusing. Some people might say 'often' is every day, for other people 'often' could be once a week.


Question 2 -

Selection A. How often do you take other forms of public transport in London?

5-7 days a week
2-4 days a week once a week or less never
National Rail        

Selection B.How often do you take other forms of public transport in London?

  5-7 days a week 2-4 days a week once a week or less never
National Rail        
Friend drives        



Selection A is better. Selection B gives options which are not public transport, and would give you confusing answers for the questionnaire.


Question 3 -

Selection A. Rate these aspects of public transport in London on the following scale:

  Good OK Bad
Does it come often?      
Does it come on time?      
Is it warm enough?      
Is it convenient for your      
Is it clean?      





Selection B. Rate these aspects of public transport in London on the following scale 1= excellent, 2= good, 3 = ok, 4= bad and 5= terrible.
If you haven't used any of the forms of transport, leave it blank

  1 2 3 4 5
Tube Frequency          
Bus Frequency          
Rail Frequency          
Tram Frequency          
Boat Frequency          














Selection B is better. Good, ok and bad are not really enough options, because you don't really get an idea about how people really feel. Also warmth and convenience from your house are probably too personal to give you useful results for your research- it tells you more about the people, where they live, and how they feel the cold rather than the transport.



Question 4 -

Selection A. Do you have any suggestions to improve public transport in London? (open question)



Selection B. If you were mayor of London, what would you do?



Answer: It's good to give an open question here, to invite comments about other aspects. Selection A is better- with selection B, people might give answers with no connection to public transport, and that's the subject of your research.


Question 5 -

Selection A. Do you think that public transport in your city is better than in London?


Selection B. Don't you think that public transport in your city is better than in London?


Answer: Selection A is better because selection B is a LEADING question, and therefore not valid- it suggests that the researcher believes that public transport is bad in London, and is asking people to agree with them. In this way the question is not going to give valid results. Selection A is just simply asking for peoples' opinions.


Question 6 -

Selection A. Answer these questions:

a) Where can you buy train tickets in London?
b) How much discount do you get with a student Oyster card?
c) How do you get to Heathrow from your house?
d) How many buses go near your house?


Selection B. Have you found enough information about.....?

a) Getting a student Oyster Card Y/N
b) Buying tickets for travel Y/N
c) Getting to London airports Y/N
d) Bus routes near your house Y/N


Answer: With selection B the question is much better, because it will answer the aim about whether students need more information about public transport. With selection A the question asks people to write but doesn't give any space, and also asks very specific questions, which don't help the researcher with the chosen aims.




Page 8 - Summary

We have seen that the research methods you use really depend on what the aims of your research are, and the information you need. For example, if you want to find out how first-year students travel to
the university, you could devise a question giving various options, then count how many students selected each option. This would be an example of quantitative analysis.

On the other hand, if you need to find out people's opinions or feelings about something, you may choose a qualitative method and organise interviews with a sample of the people you are interested in.

It is also essential to think carefully about why you are doing your research when you are designing your questions? What exactly do you want to know? How will this help you in your research? Paying
attention to the design and wording of your questions, and carrying out a trial before you do your research, will also help to make your results more relevant and reliable.

Can you answer the True or False Questions on the next page?


Page 9 - Quiz - true or false

1. It is always best to interview people when doing your research.

2. Quantitative research methods are generally concerned with numbers.

3. When designing your questionnaire, you should make sure your questions are easy to understand by doing a trial with a small number of people.

4. Questions which can be answered either 'Yes' or 'No' are the best because it is easy to analyse the results.

5. Demographic data concerns things like age, sex and nationality.



1. False

2. True

3. True

4. False

5. True


Page 10 - Extra Language Practice

If you want some extra language practice, try the language activities on the following pages. These will help you get the correct word order in your questions and avoid some typical grammar mistakes students often make when writing questions. Go to the next page...


Page 11 -

Activity 5 - Are the following questions formed correctly? Choose True or False in each case, answers below are given with explanations.

1. Where did you born?
2. How often you do sport?
3. When played you football last time?
4. Are you sometimes too tired to play sport?
5. Which sport most popular in your country?
6. Which kind of sport do you like best; team sports, winter sports, water sports or racket sports?
7. Which is the best way to improve your fitness?
8. How long time do you play usually sport every week? ? 0-2 hours ? 2-5 hours ? more than 5 hours
9. You would like to play more?
10. Have enough sporting facilities in London?
11. Do you have any other comments?



1. FALSE - 'to be born' is a passive structure in English. When someone is born, it's the mother doing the work, not the child. If you were treated in hospital it's the doctor doing the work, if a meal was prepared, it's the cook doing the work.

2. FALSE - This is a question in the present simple, so it needs the auxiliary verb 'do'. (For past simple, it's just the same, with the auxiliary 'did') The word order for this kind of question is:

Question Word + Auxiliary + Subject + Infinitive
How often do you play?
Where do you live?
What time do you finish?

3. FALSE - This follows the same word order as most past simple questions, but we add 'last' before the main verb to find out the most recent activity; When did you last see the sea? When did you last go swimming? You can also use 'next' with 'will'; When will you next play football? When will you next see your friends?

4. TRUE -

5. FALSE - We need to use 'the' with a superlative; the most popular, the easiest. You also always need to have a main verb in every sentence or question.

6. TRUE -

7. FALSE - If you ask 'which' in a question like this, it suggests that there is a limited choice of answers. It would be natural to ask: 'Which is the best way to improve your fitness; cycling, jogging or yoga?' 'What' is better here as it gives an open choice, and there are so many ways to get fit.

8. FALSE - We use 'How much' here, as time is an uncountable noun. We could also say 'How long do you usually play sport for?' to ask about the time someone spends on sport each time they do it. The answer might be' three hours' or '10 minutes' etc. However, here, we want to ask about the total time spent during the week, and the respondent might spend half an hour five times a week. If we ask 'How long?', they'll answer half an hour, but if we ask 'How much time?', they'll answer two and a half hours.

9. FALSE - In a direct question, we always change the order of the subject and verb.

10. FALSE - When we ask about the facilities available in a place, the question is always 'Are there? / Is there?' In many languages (but not English), the question would be 'Have? Has?' so this is a common mistake.

11. TRUE -


Page 12 -

Activity 6 - You have to re-order each of the 7 sentences in order to form correct questions.

  1. you can ? drive
  2. enjoy you ? in London do walking
  3. bike you got have ? a
  4. tube house nearest is ? station your what to the
  5. travel school ? usually you do to how
  6. prefer you tube bus ? travelling do or by
  7. most you London transport ? what about in annoys



  1. Can you drive?
  2. Do you enjoy walking in London?
  3. Have you got a bike?
  4. What is the nearest tube station to your house?
  5. How to you usually travel to school?
  6. Do you prefer travelling by bus or by tube?
  7. What annoys you most about transport in London?

Page 13 - Further resources and credits

Access the Links below to find out more about the research process.

Links (3):





We do hope you have enjoyed using this Learning Resource,
have a look at the other Learning resources in this series...

Edited and Repurposed: Jim Pettiward
Technical Design and Development: Chris O'Reilly
(Original content Andy Harris, Alex Black and Steve Wasserman)

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