Self-Report Design

Have you ever completed a survey for a class or a project? Your friend might have sent you a link, and you answered twenty questions to help them with their project. In that instance, whether you knew it or not, you completed a self-report. 

Self-Report Design Self-Report Design

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Table of contents
    • First, we are going to define self-reports.
    • Next, we will look at the different types of research designs that utilise a self-report method.
    • Then, we will look at three main self-report methods.
    • Later, we will review Beck's Depression Inventory as a self-report questionnaire example.
    • Finally, we are going to look at some other self-report examples.

    Self-Report: Psychology

    Let's start by defining self-reports.

    A self-report is a data collection method that relies on participants giving answers about themselves. The questions are pre-set.

    Typically, a self-report design is used in psychology research when researchers want to get data from many participants quickly. If the researcher chooses to use a questionnaire or survey as their self-report method, they can send out the survey to many people. This keeps the cost down and participant numbers up (rather than bringing all participants into the lab to be interviewed).

    However, when conducting research using self-reports, relying on a researcher's interpretation of the participant's behaviour and the reasoning behind it is not always best. This can be subject to several issues; the researcher may miss something or misinterpret an action completely.

    Photograph of someone completing a survey. StudySmarterFig. 1. Questionnaires are an example of a self-report method used in psychology.

    Types of Research Design: Self-Reports

    Self-reports can be used for a wide variety of reasons in an extensive range of studies. Self-reports can be used in both qualitative and quantitative research studies.

    Quantitative research collects numerical data, and qualitative data collects the opposite, non-numerical data.

    Self-reports can be used for both qualitative and quantitative research because of the options of self-report methods. If a researcher chooses to use a questionnaire or survey to conduct their research, the data collected could be numerical, contributing to a quantitative research design.

    However, researchers could choose to use an interview as their research method, which would lead to them collecting qualitative data since they would get the participants' opinions, thoughts, and stories.

    Self-report designs can also be used in conjunction with other methods of research. One other type of research is experimental research. Researchers could use self-report questionnaires to collect initial data and information about the participants or could use self-report interviews to get data for the main parts of their study.

    An example research scenario that uses both an experimental and a self-report design may be investigating differences in brain structures in people with depression and those not suffering from it.

    The research design may include measuring differences in brain structures using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; experimental design). And then use a self-report method, such as a questionnaire, to measure depressive symptoms.

    Self-Report Methods

    Questionnaires and interviews typically rely on self-report for data collection. However, they can vary in the collection methods, which also affects the type of data being collected.

    Self-report Design: Questionnaires

    The type of questions included in questionnaires depends on the kind of data the researcher wishes to collect.

    Close-ended questions are used when the researcher wants to collect quantitative data. On the other hand, open-ended questions are used when the researcher wants to collect qualitative data.

    Close-ended questions are defined by a fixed response; participants are required to select an answer that has been listed in the questionnaire by the researcher. Typically, they are formed as multiple-choice questions.

    Which of the following best describes your current status?

    1. Married
    2. Civil partnership
    3. Single
    4. Divorced
    5. Other

    Another example of close-ended questions is the Likert scale. The Likert scale is a psychometric rating scale used to measure variables. The answers are pre-defined and are often used to measure how much a person agrees or disagrees with a sentiment or statement.

    All swans are white.

    1. Strongly agree
    2. Somewhat agree
    3. Not sure
    4. Somewhat disagree
    5. Strongly disagree

    Another option for questionnaire questions is open-ended questions, where the participants can answer a question however they wish.

    How would you describe how you feel after completing an assignment?

    Sometimes with open-ended questions, participants can answer on a ranking scale. These questions ask you to rate something on a scale, usually 1-10, but this can be disguised by using different levels of agreement.

    Self-Report Design: Interviews

    There are different types of interviews. Therefore, the type of interview used determines if the researcher will use a self-report design.

    The types of interviews used in psychology research are structured, semi-structured, and unstructured.

    In a structured interview, all participants will get asked the same questions. Before the interview, the researcher decides what questions will be asked (predetermined) and asks all participants the same questions in the same order (this is called a standardised procedure, which increases the internal reliability of research designs). The questions are typically close-ended and are not like a natural conversation.

    Structured interviews have a self-report design.

    Photograph of two people shaking hands. StudySmarterFig. 2. Structured interviews are almost like an in-person survey.

    In a semi-structured interview, a few of the questions are predetermined. The researcher can spontaneously ask questions based on previous responses participants have given. This interview usually uses open- and close-ended questions. It combines the benefits of a structured and unstructured interview.

    Parts of semi-structured interviews have a self-report design.

    Finally, in an unstructured interview, the questions are not predetermined. This interview type is more like a conversation between the researcher and the participant, who mostly leads the discussion. The researcher may intervene or re-direct the conversation if it is going off-topic. This is somewhat unreliable as it cannot be replicated, but it is more natural and allows full exploration of interesting tangents.

    Unstructured interviews are not a self-report design.

    Self-Report Design: Diaries

    Researchers may use diaries as a data collection method. This is also a form of a self-report design because it relies on participants reporting their thoughts, feelings and activities.

    The use of diaries in psychology research may rely on using previous entries, or participants may be asked to make diary entries throughout an experiment.

    In this hypothetical research scenario, participants with depression were divided into two groups. Group 1 received the typical cognitive behavioural intervention, and Group 2 received a refined form of cognitive behavioural therapy.

    Participants were asked to keep a diary throughout and three weeks after the experiment. This was to identify if participants' attitudes and symptoms changed after the intervention by exploring their innermost thoughts and feelings based on their private answers.

    Self-Report Questionnaire Example

    Let's look at a famous self-report questionnaire, Beck's Depression Inventory. Aaron Beck created the questionnaire to help patients and therapists accurately diagnose depression. It has 21 questions and asks people to choose which statement best describes their feelings.

    The statements typically are:

    0 = I do not feel…

    1 = I feel …

    2 = I strongly feel …

    3 = I am hopeless and feel …

    The first answer, corresponding to 0, would be what someone without depression would respond with. However, people struggling with symptoms of depression would answer numbers 2 and 3 more than the others, indicating that they feel guilty, like a failure, or hopeless all the time.

    For example, one series of statements is:

    0 = I get as much satisfaction out of things as I used to.

    1 = I don't enjoy things the way I used to.

    2 = I don't get real satisfaction out of anything anymore.

    3 = I am dissatisfied or bored with everything.

    After completing all 21 questions, you (or your therapist) would add the numbers corresponding to your answers. An answer that is ten or below would be considered normal. 11-16 is a mild mood disturbance, 17-20 is borderline clinical depression, 21-30 is moderate depression, 31-40 is severe depression, and 40+ is extreme depression.

    However, as is the catch with most questionnaires, Beck's Depression Inventory relies on the person being honest with their feelings. If someone is feeling depressed but does not want help or to be seen as depressed, they could lie.

    Self-Report Examples

    Let's look at examples of self-report in various potential research.

    • A questionnaire is sent out to obtain the student body's opinion on the difficulty of their courses.

    • Participants are interviewed about their experience with breast cancer and their mental health.

    • Participants are asked to keep a diary that details their experiences as a server in a busy restaurant.

    • People are asked to complete a survey before completing an experiment's experimental portion.

    Evaluation of Self-Report Designs

    Similar to other research designs used in psychology, there are strengths and limitations to using self-report designs in research. The researcher needs to consider these and ensure they will not lead to invalid or unreliable findings. Additionally, the researcher must ensure that a self-report design is the most appropriate research design to explore the phenomena of interest.

    The strengths of self-report designs are:

    • They are relatively cheap, especially if the questionnaires are sent to participants, who then send them back. This avoids finding a place to conduct an experiment and the costs associated with it.
    • It is easier to get information from a diverse, representative sample of the target population.
    • It is not always time-consuming.
    • The researcher does not interfere, so experimenter bias is less likely to affect the results.

    In terms of questionnaires, responses can be collected over the phone, online, or via mail. So it is easier to collect data from different people, locations, ethnicities, and professions. This means that the study's findings are likely representative and generalisable.

    The weaknesses of self-report design are:

    • Occasionally, qualitative data is collected, potentially leading to experimenter bias during analysis.
    • As questions are predetermined, it is difficult for researchers to build on unexpected results, leading to the research to collect limited information.
    • Methods that rely on fixed-response may lead to participants' answers not reflecting how they genuinely feel. This can reduce the validity of the findings.
    • Social desirability - the participant's expectations could influence answers in questionnaires or interviews. More specifically, by how they think someone in society should answer. This affects the validity of the results.
    • Confidentiality issues can arise, as these self-reports often discuss sensitive information.

    Self-Report Design - Key takeaways

    • A self-report design is a data collection method that relies on participants giving answers about themselves. The questions are usually pre-set.
    • Self-reports can be used in qualitative and quantitative research designs.
    • Examples of self-report designs are questionnaires, interviews (structured and partially semi-structured) and diaries.
    • The strengths of self-report designs are that they are relatively cheap, easy to gather data from a large and representative sample, they are not time-consuming, and there is less likelihood of experimenter bias influencing the study.
    • The weaknesses of self-report designs are that a potential bias during analysis can affect the validity of the results, they may provide a limited amount of information, and pre-defined answers may not reflect how participants genuinely feel.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Self-Report Design

    What is a self-report design?

    A self-report design is a data collection method that relies on participants giving answers about themselves. The questions are usually pre-set.

    Is a self-report design qualitative?

    A self-report design can be qualitative or quantitative. It depends on the type of question (open- versus close-ended questions).

    What is an example of a self-report measure?

    An example of a self-report measure is a questionnaire. 

    What is the advantage of self-report studies?

    The strengths of self-report designs are that they are relatively cheap, easy to gather data from a large and representative sample, they are not time-consuming, and there is less likelihood of experimenter bias influencing the study. 


    What type of design is a self-report?

    A self-report design is a non-experimental design. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is an accurate description of a self-report design? 

    What type of data do self-report designs produce? 

    Which of the following is a self-report design? 

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