The method used in this study was a survey. It consisted of attitudes towards HIV and sexual behaviour, HIV sero status information and sexual behaviour, sexual sensation seeking and demographics questions. Surveys are lists of questions. This is the main way to gather information in social surveys. The person answering the questions is asked to fill in the questionnaire; this is known as a self-completion questionnaire. They are sometimes read out by an interviewer this is known as a structured interview. In theory questionnaires produce data which can be compared. Everybody is answering exactly the same questions and is therefore responding to the same thing. Any differences in the answers will therefore reflect real differences between the respondents.
Surveys are designed to measure things, to do this those ‘things’ must be operationalised ie- put in a form which allows them to be measured. Operationalising concepts is difficult, especially when researchers themselves can not agree on their meaning. Often concepts are operationalised in different ways in different studies which means the results are difficult to compare. The problem with comparability becomes even greater when the researchers attempt to discover what participants really mean when they answer the questions.
There are two main types of questions used in questionnaires – closed and open. In closed questions the range of responses is fixed by the researcher. The respondent usually has to select one answer from tow or more give alternatives. Closed questions are relatively easy, quick and cheap to classify and qualify. They are pre-coded in the sense that the categories are set and the respondent simply has to choose one or rank some.
An open question asks the respondent to answer a question in their own words. Open questions give the respondent more freedom but coding the responses can be difficult and time consuming. Most researchers see closed questions as suitable for simple, factual data such as age, gender and income level. Open questions are usually seen as more suitable for data on attitudes and values where respondents are required to express how they feel. An open question allows them to say things in their own way.
Self-completion questionnaires have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that they are very cheap, no interviewers to pay also they are cheap to classify results. As a result, often possible to survey a large sample. It is fast and efficient analysis possible with pre-coded closed questions. Answers can be easily quantified and entered straight on to computers. Also the interviewer does not influence the respondents answers as there is no bias feeling in a survey.
The alternative method that should have been used in this study should have bee semi-structured interview: The semi structured interview is often the most successful approach, with the use of some prepared questions by the interviewer, supplemented by opportunities for the interviewee to expand the answers that have been given.