Career Plan Questionnaire: An Evaluation of the Advantages and Disadvantages

Recently, a questionnaire focusing on students’ career plan was conducted among students major in MA TESOL programme in the University of Hong Kong. For novice researchers, it is essential to reflect upon the practice of the designing procedures so as to seek rooms for further improvement. Therefore, this essay will expound on the development of current questionnaire, providing justification for its design decisions as well as evaluating its advantages and disadvantages. The design process of current questionnaire demonstrates a move from ‘a generalized area of interest or purpose to a very specific set of features’, as Cohen et (2017, 473) proclaimed.

At the beginning, a general research purpose was proposed, ‘to investigate the career plan of students in MA TESOL’. This initial idea had largely underpinned the design decision of each question items. The researchers then identified subsidiary areas pertinent to the main topic ‘career plan’, such as ‘the personal desire for working contexts’. This step renders little room for vagueness or imprecision in the questionnaire.

Meanwhile, an item pool was drawn up which included more questions than the final scales. Dornyei and Taguchi (2009) suggest that, it is feasible to create as many possible question items as the researchers can imagine without concerning the number limitation. Whereas, a long questionnaire might arouse respondents’ feeling of tiredness (Cohen, 2017). Hence, questions with peripheral information were selectively removed from the item pool. The current questionnaire finally ended up with 12 items. This optimal length prevents respondents from being overwhelmed and demotivated while ensuring that sufficient responses are elicited within a limited scale.

In terms of the actual wording, the questions of current questionnaire were carefully crafted with non-technical terms, simple syntax, and clear structured sentence. For Ganassali (2008), a complex wording tends to provoke misunderstanding as well as a diminished quality of response. The simplified yet focused question item of current questionnaire might, thus, be useful for facilitating participants’ comprehension and maximizing their cooperation.

As for the item type, the current questionnaire started with a dichotomous question. This type of question often serves as a sorting device for subsequent questions, as respondents of different groups were informed how to proceed and were taken directly to the relevant next place (Cohen et al., 2017). In the case of current questionnaire, question 2 is an open-ended and follow-up question where respondents.

Notably, the current questionnaire appears to be overwhelmed by multiple- choice question type. There are 11 multiple-choice questions out of the 12 questions. The researchers originally considered that, multiple-choice items, being relatively straightforward and reader-friendly, would help the current questionnaire simplify the processing of the answers, relieve respondents’ frustration, and eventually increase the filling-up rate (Dornyei and Taguchi, 2009). Besides, this format is able to stimulate pre-coded answers which are suitable for quantitative and statistical analyses. It, therefore, eases the burden of researchers in analyzing the data.

Though multiple-choice questions manifest certain strengths, the designers were unaware of the fact that such consistency of question type may ultimately pose risks. As the questionnaire progresses, some respondents may become increasingly disinterested due to the simple style throughout. In Denscombe’s (2007) view, using a variety of modes of questions would minimize the feeling of being bored.

Accordingly, adding the type of rating scale in the current questionnaire may make an improvement. For instance, the question 4 can be modified into a numerical rating item, ‘how likely would you work the following districts?’ The respondents can then rate each district from successive numbers 1 to 7, ranging from ‘not likely’ to ‘most likely’. Such modification not only generate variation of question types but also help researchers to integrate ‘the opportunity for a flexible response’ with ‘the ability to determine frequencies’ (Cohen et al., 2017, p481). This gives rise to the freedom to blend measurement with belief.

In terms of the design of response categories, the researchers balanced the relative weighting of each options and made sure that there was no overlap among them. In case that none of the options apply, an ‘other’ category followed by some space was designed for respondents to specify in their own words. The inclusion of residual category as ‘other’ is vital for achieving an exhaustive list of categories (Dornyei and Taguchi, 2009).

However, the devising of the response options was based entirely on researchers’ own thoughts, which means these prepared options might not constitute the most likely categories for respondents. The omission could result in a long answer list in the ‘other’ category. In question 10, for example, the data gathered showed that four respondents chose the ‘other’ categories, two of them indicated nothing, and the other two respondents pointed to different areas. This kind of word-based data is hard to handle since it requires complicated and time-consuming analysis. Nevertheless, researchers can overcome such issue by scheduling the piloting of the initial draft. As Cohen (2017) suggests, a pilot brings about feedbacks on the response categories, based on which questionnaire designers could reflect upon the practicability of the questionnaire. It provides a chance to check the range of possible options and to eliminate redundant categories.

The last amendment to be suggested is to contain a brief and informative introduction and a final ‘thank you’. The two procedures were omitted by the current questionnaire designers. An introduction provided can prepare respondents with the background knowledge of the topic, while the final thanks show the acknowledgement and appreciation of respondents’ cooperation. These are basic components of a questionnaire, which conveys sincerity and thereby increases the possibility of gaining truthful and thoughtful answers.

To conclude, the reflection has deepened the researcher’s understanding of the design questionnaire design. It is of paramount importance to plan with data analysis in mind, to think from respondents’ perspective, and to take response rate into consideration. Besides, every decision regarding the content, wording, length, question type, and response categories needs to be meticulously crafted, aiming at unambiguity and the overall coherence.

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