Strengths and Weaknesses of Surveys
Survey research has several important strengths. First, it is useful In describing the characteristics of a large population without having to Interview each person in that population. Second. survey research enables the researcher to search for causes and effects and to assess the relative Importance of a number of variables. In recent years, computer technology has enhanced our ability to do multivariate analysis-research involving more than two independent variables. For example. to assess the influence of religion 011 suicidal behavior among African Americans. a researcher might look at the effects of age. sex, income level, and other variables all at once to determine which of these independent variables influences suicide the most or least and how influential each variable is relative to the others. Third, survey research can be useful in/ analyzing social change or in documenting the existence of a social problem Contemporary scholars have used survey research to provide information about such problems as racial discrimination. sexual harassment, and sex-based inequality in employment by documenting the fact that they are more widespread than previously thought (Reinharz, 1992).
Survey research also has weaknesses. One is that the use of standardized questions tends to force respondents into categories in which they mayor may not belong. Another weakness concerns validity. People's opinions on issues seldom take the form of a standard response ranging from "strongly agree" .\0 "strongly disagree." Moreover, as In other types of research, peopie may be less than truthful. especially 011 emotionally charged issues such as suicide, thus making reliance on self-reported attitudes problematic. Some scholars have also criticized the way survey data are used. They believe that survey data do not always constitute the "hard facts" that other analysts may use to justify changes in public policy or law. For example. survey statistics may over- or underestimate the extent of a problem and work against some categories of people more than others, as shown in.