(To tell us what quality you would most prefer in a job, please scroll to the end of this post and participate in our poll!)
This exercise (adapted from this textbook) aimed to introduce my research methods students to the notions of "closed-ended" versus "open-ended" questions (see examples of each above). These are lessons they should learn and master if they are to construct useful interview guides (or protocols). In social science research, there is little worse [in my humble opinion] than going out to "the field" unprepared. By not having the proper tools to carry out research, we risk not only wasting our time, but even more worrisome is wasting the time of the people who kindly agree to talk to us. Additionally, not having actual data makes the writing process a lot more difficult.
For this exercise each student surveyed 10 people for a total sample of 25. The exercise, which focused on learning the kinds of answers people give to each type of question, did not charge students with collecting demographic data (such as age, sex, and field of study for example). Demographic data would have made it possible to do a series of comparisons and assertions that without the additional data points we are simply not able to do. Having said that, the data still yielded interesting results. The students reported having surveyed their college-aged peers.
Here are the results from the "closed-ended" survey questions (table 1):
68% of the total sample said that the quality they would most prefer in a job is that "the work be important and gives me feelings of accomplishment." This data suggests that this sample does not want to work just for a paycheck. They want to do work that they deem important, and which also leads to feelings of personal accomplishment (do what you love, anyone?).
And what did the "open-ended" questions reveal? Analyzing this data required more than counting, although, it too, boiled down to numbers in the end. We coded the data first and then counted the number of times each code was mentioned. The "codes" are descriptive words that capture what the informants said. Researchers derive their codes by systematically examining or reading the qualitative data (i.e. people's own words). To be clear, the codes in the table below are summary or umbrella codes inside of which a series of smaller, thematic sub-codes are collapsed. For instance, under the umbrella code "work environment," we had these sub-codes: 1. "good relationships between employees," 2. "good relationship with boss," 3. "fairness," and 4. "opportunity for advancement." (see table 2 below)
The qualitative data allowed us to discover a new dimension not captured in the close-ended question, which is the main strength of open-ended questions. Informants mentioned aspects related to what we coded as "work environment" 15 separate times. Informants characterized work environment by stating that they would prefer a job that has a "good environment [sic] outgoing, welcoming and entertaining" or that they would like to be "surrounded by a group of passionate people," or have a "boss that is open to communication and open to yours and other people's ideas." Aspects related to what job satisfaction scholars call "self-actualization" (which scored high in quantitative table 1), was mentioned 5 different times and was tied in the times mentioned with "autonomy." About "self-actualization", respondents said things like I would prefer a job where I "enjoy what I am doing, somethings that I actually want to do," "a job that gives back," and that I get "personal fulfillment" from the work. Regarding autonomy, respondents said things like I would prefer a job that will allow me "control over my own time," "creative time," and "flexibility."
What might be said about these findings? It can be said that when it comes to qualities they most prefer in a job, our class' sample scored high in things related to doing important work that makes them feel accomplished. They'd like to do this work in a good work environment where their voices are heard and where they can have control over their time and the freedom to be creative. Doing work for a paycheck scored low on both measures and was mentioned only 1 time in the qualitative data. If a researcher were interested in researching this topic in more-depth the next thing to do would be to device a more expansive set of questions that would uncover how variables (such as age, gender, field of study, and so on), might illuminate how people explain, chose and/or rank the things that important to them when describing the ideal job.
Please tell us: What quality would you most prefer in a job?