Volume 2, Number 1
Why I Didn't Respond to Your Questionnaire
John V. Gallagher
One role I must play, as a scholar, is
to actively participate in the research ac-
tivities of other technology educators. Gen-
erally, this means responding to research
questionnaires to which I feel qualified to
contribute. Either I will complete the re-
search instrument, or, if the content is out
of my area of competence, return it with a
note stating the reason for not completing
However, your questionnaire falls into
neither of the above categories. It contains
a number of serious defects which threaten
its reliability, validity, and
generalizability. This places me in the di-
lemma of whether to spend time responding to
a clearly defective survey instrument. I
didn't respond to yours for one or more of
the following reasons. I'm sorry.
REASON 1. YOU FAILED TO REVIEW THE LITERATURE
AND AVAILABLE DATA BASES. You are asking for
information on technology education that is
readily available or published recently.
DISCUSSION: A researcher owes the respondent
the courtesy of using a systematic process of
research to obtain information to answer the
research questions/hypotheses. The use of
data collection instruments should be the
last resort to obtain information because it
is unavailable elsewhere.
REASON 2. YOU FAILED TO FIELD TEST YOUR DATA
COLLECTION INSTRUMENT AND REVISE IT. Your
instrument has vague instructions. Your terms
are not defined. I started to respond but be-
came frustrated because the lack of internal
consistency and mutual exclusivity of the
variables confused me. You sent me an instru-
ment which has a sloppy format, confusing
page layout, misspelled words, incorrect
grammar, etc. You didn't tell me what the
limits of the study are so I feel that I will
never finish your instrument.
DISCUSSION: How can a respondent give reli-
able and valid information on an instrument
with these and other defects? Too often, the
researcher skips the step of conducting a
field test. A multiple step field test and
revision cycle will eliminate most defects in
the survey instrument. The researcher should
conduct a final field test with a small sam-
ple of members of the population to be sur-
veyed, make corrections, and only then send
the final version of the instrument.
REASON 3. YOU TIMED YOUR DATA COLLECTION EF-
FORT POORLY. I received your instrument
three days after the date you wanted me to
respond so my input cannot be included in
your research. Or, you gave me only a week to
respond and your instrument arrived during my
midterm grading week or at the end of the se-
mester when I was grading term papers and
final examinations. Or, your instrument ar-
rived during winter break (or summer vaca-
tion) when I was away and the due date passed
before I returned.
DISCUSSION: Make it convenient for the re-
spondent. Give the respondent sufficient
time to complete the instrument. Make allow-
ances for delayed mail, holidays, con-
ventions, or academic year events when your
respondents are from the academic community.
Print follow-up copies of the instrument well
in advance so they may be mailed to non-
respondents weeks before the return date.
Budget your study so you can use FIRST CLASS
MAIL for all data collection activities both
TO and FROM the respondents.
REASON 4. YOU FAILED TO HONESTLY IDENTIFY
YOURSELF. Who are you and why should I spend
my valuable time to give you information?
DISCUSSION: Researchers in technology educa-
tion need to identify their sponsoring organ-
ization and the function they perform in the
organization. If the sponsoring organization
is generally unknown to technology education
respondents, then a paragraph explaining its
roles and purposes is needed. Graduate stu-
dents conducting technology education thesis
or dissertation research should identify
their status in the cover letter accompanying
the instrument. Graduate advisors should add
a signed statement to the cover letter stat-
ing that the instrument is part of an ap-
proved thesis or dissertation, that the
advisor reviewed and approved the instrument,
and that he or she requests respondent coop-
eration. A copy machine facsimile of the ad-
visor's signature is appropriate but the
researcher should personally sign each cover
REASON 5. YOU FAILED TO JUSTIFY THE RESEARCH.
Your assertion that the research will make "a
valuable contribution to technology
education" doesn't motivate me to spend my
valuable time responding.
DISCUSSION: In the cover letter, provide a
purpose statement and a statement of need
briefly describing how the research findings
will fill a gap in the body of knowledge of
technology education. Describe how the re-
searcher, the respondent, or others can use
the research results.
REASON 6. YOU DIDN'T PROMISE ME AN ABSTRACT
OF THE RESULTS IF I REQUEST IT. What am I
going to get out of my time spent responding?
DISCUSSION: Provide the respondent with a
place to check on the instrument to request
an abstract of the results of the research or
a separate postcard to request an abstract if
respondent confidentiality is necessary. The
respondent spends time reflecting on the
items of the data collection instrument. The
respondent needs to grow from the research
and often wonders how he or she contributed
to the results. An abstract will allow the
respondent to compare the results with his or
her own views and learn from the research.
REASON 7. YOU FAILED TO SAY PLEASE AND THANK
DISCUSSION: Researchers sometimes get so in-
volved with their research procedure that
they fail to attend to common courtesies.
Make your thank you active in voice, per-
sonal, in the first and second person, di-
rect, and brief.
Experienced survey researchers will find
nothing new here, yet we continue to receive
poorly designed and conducted surveys in the
mail. This threatens the integrity of our
discipline, because this causes us to wonder
whether survey research data is valid and re-
liable. Poor instrument design also leads to
low instrument returns, further threatening
the generalizability of the findings.
Technology educators conducting mailed
surveys face a difficult challenge in obtain-
ing a representative response rate. The re-
quest to complete an instrument imposes upon
the valuable time of the respondent. The past
history of poorly designed research instru-
ments places a negative bias on the process.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of
screening a prototype research instrument
through a multiple-cycle field test and re-
vision process to eliminate threats to valid-
ity and reliability and to make the
instrument "respondent friendly."
John Gallagher is Associate Professor, De-
partment of Technology, Glassboro State Col-
lege, Glassboro, New Jersey.
Permission is given to copy any
article or graphic provided credit is given and
the copies are not intended for sale.
Journal of Technology Education Volume 2, Number 1 Fall 1990