Survey Research and Questionnaires
Survey research is a commonly used method of collecting information about a population of interest. There are many different types of surveys, several ways to administer them, and many methods of sampling. There are two key features of survey research:
- Questionnaires -- a predefined series of questions used to collect information from individuals
- Sampling -- a technique in which a subgroup of the population is selected to answer the survey questions; the information collected can be generalized to the entire population of interest
The two most common types of survey questions are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.
- The respondents are given a list of predetermined responses from which to choose their answer
- The list of responses should include every possible response and the meaning of the responses should not overlap
- An example of a close-ended survey question would be, "Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'I feel good about my work on the job.' Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree?"
- A Likert scale, which is used in the example above, is a commonly used set of responses for closed-ended questions
- Closed-ended questions are usually preferred in survey research because of the ease of counting the frequency of each response
- Survey respondents are asked to answer each question in their own words
- Responses are usually categorized into a smaller list of responses that can be counted by the study team for statistical analysis
Considerations for Designing a Questionnaire
- It is important to consider the order in which questions are presented. Sensitive questions, such as questions about income, drug use, or sexual activity, should be put at the end of the survey. This allows the researcher to establish trust before asking questions that might embarrass respondents. Researchers also recommend putting routine questions, such as age, gender, and marital status, at the end of the questionnaire
- Double-barreled questions, which ask two questions in one, should never be used in a survey. An example of a double barreled question is, "Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'I feel good about my work on the job, and I get along well with others at work.'" This question is problematic because survey respondents are asked to give one response for two questions
- Researchers should avoid using emotionally loaded or biased words and phrases
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Surveys can be admininistered in three ways:
- Through the mail
- Advantage: Low cost
- Disadvantage: Low response rate
- By telephone
- Advantages: Higher response rates; responses can be gathered more quickly
- Disadvantage: More expensive than mail surveys
- Advantages: Highest response rates; better suited to collecting complex information
- Disadvantage: Very expensive
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One of the primary strengths of sampling is that accurate estimates of a population's characteristics can be obtained by surveying a small proportion of the population. Four sampling techniques are described here:
Simple Random Sampling
- Simple random sampling is the most basic form of sampling
- Every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected
- This sampling process is similar to a lottery: the entire population of interest could be selected for the survey, but only a few are chosen at random
- Researchers often use random-digit dialing to perform simple random sampling. In this procedure, telephone numbers are generated by a computer at random and called to identify individuals to participate in the survey
- Cluster sampling is generally used when it is geographically impossible to undertake a simple random sample
- Cluster sampling requires that adjustments be made in statistical analyses
For example, in a face-to-face interview, it is difficult and expensive to survey households across the nation. Instead, researchers will randomly select geographic areas (for example, counties), then randomly select households within these areas. This creates a cluster sample, in which respondents are clustered together geographically.
- Stratified samples are used when a researcher wants to ensure that there are enough respondents with certain characteristics in the sample
- The researcher first identifies the people in the population who have the desired characteristics, then randomly selects a sample of them
- Stratified sampling requires that adjustments be made in statistical analyses
For example, a researcher may want to compare survey responses of African-Americans and Caucasians. To ensure that there are enough Afrian-Americans in the survey, the researcher will first identify the African-Americans in the population and then randomly select a sample of African-Americans.
- Common nonrandom sampling techniques include convenience sampling and snowball sampling
- Nonrandom samples cannot be generalized to the population of interest. Consequently, it is problematic to make inferences about the population
- In survey research, random, cluster, or stratified samples are preferable
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Measurement error is the difference between the target population's characteristics and the measurement of these characteristics in a survey. There are two types of measurement error: systematic error and random error.
- Systematic error is more serious than random error
- Occurs when the survey responses are systematically different from the target population responses
- For example, if a researcher only surveyed individuals who answered their phone between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday, the survey results would be biased toward individuals who are unemployed
- Sources of bias include
- Nonobservational error -- Individuals in the target population are systematically excluded from the sample, such as in the example above
- Observational error -- When respondents systematically answer surveys question incorrectly. For example, surveys that ask respondents how much they weigh will probably underestimate the population's weight because respondents are likely to underreport their weight
- Random error is an expected part of survey research, and statistical techniques are designed to account for this sort of measurement error
- Occurs because of natural and uncontrollable variations in the survey process, i.e., the mood of the respondent
For example, a researcher may administer a survey about marital happiness. However, some respondents may have had a fight with their spouse the evening prior to the survey, while other respondents' spouses may have cooked the respondent's favorite meal. The survey responses will be affected by the random day on which the respondents were chosen to participate in the study. With random error, the positive and negative influences on the survey measure balance out.
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Nonresponse Rate Bias
Ethics of Survey Research
Respondents should give informed consent before participating in a survey. In order for respondents to give informed consent,
- The researcher must inform the respondents of the study's purpose, content, duration, and potential risks and benefits
- The researcher must inform the respondents that they do not have to answer all the survey questions
- The researcher must inform the resondents that they can stop participating in the study at any point
Confidentiality and Anonymity
It is absolutely imperative that researchers keep respondents' identities confidential. To ensure confidentiality, researchers should not link respondents' identifiers to their survey responses when using data. Common identifiers include names, social security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers.
Anonymity is an even stronger safeguard of respondent privacy. If a researcher assures anonymity, it means that the researcher is unable to link respondents' names to their surveys.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research
- Sample surveys are a cost-effective and efficient means of gathering information about a population
- Survey sampling makes it possible to accurately estimate the characteristics of a target population without interviewing all members of the population
Survey sampling is particularly useful when the population of interest is very large or dispersed across a large geographic area.
- Surveys do not allow researchers to develop an intimate understanding of individual circumstances or the local culture that may be the root cause of respondent behavior
- Respondents often will not share sensitive information in the survey format
- A growing problem in survey research is the widespread decline in response rates
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Questionnaires can be classified as both, quantitative and qualitative method depending on the nature of questions. Specifically, answers obtained through closed-ended questions with multiple choice answer options are analyzed using quantitative methods and they may involve pie-charts, bar-charts and percentages. Answers obtained to open-ended questionnaire questions are analyzed using qualitative methods and they involve discussions and critical analyses without use of numbers and calculations.
For a standard 15,000-20,000 word business dissertation, including 25-40 questions in questionnaires will usually suffice. Questions need be formulated in an unambiguous and straightforward manner and they should be presented in a logical order.
Advantages of questionnaires include increased speed of data collection, low or no cost requirements, and higher levels of objectivity compared to many alternative methods of primary data collection. However, questionnaires have certain disadvantages such as selection of random answer choices by respondents without properly reading the question. Moreover, there is usually no possibility for respondents to express their additional thoughts about the matter due to the absence of a relevant question.
There are following types of questionnaires:
Computer questionnaire. Respondents are asked to answer the questionnaire which is sent by mail. The advantages of the computer questionnaires include their inexpensive price, time-efficiency, and respondents do not feel pressured, therefore can answer when they have time, giving more accurate answers. However, the main shortcoming of the mail questionnaires is that sometimes respondents do not bother answering them and they can just ignore the questionnaire.
Telephone questionnaire. Researcher may choose to call potential respondents with the aim of getting them to answer the questionnaire. The advantage of the telephone questionnaire is that, it can be completed during the short amount of time. The main disadvantage of the phone questionnaire is that it is expensive most of the time. Moreover, most people do not feel comfortable to answer many questions asked through the phone and it is difficult to get sample group to answer questionnaire over the phone.
In-house survey. This type of questionnaire involves the researcher visiting respondents in their houses or workplaces. The advantage of in-house survey is that more focus towards the questions can be gained from respondents. However, in-house surveys also have a range of disadvantages which include being time consuming, more expensive and respondents may not wish to have the researcher in their houses or workplaces for various reasons.
Mail Questionnaire. This sort of questionnaires involve the researcher to send the questionnaire list to respondents through post, often attaching pre-paid envelope. Mail questionnaires have an advantage of providing more accurate answer, because respondents can answer the questionnaire in their spare time. The disadvantages associated with mail questionnaires include them being expensive, time consuming and sometimes they end up in the bin put by respondents.
Questionnaires can include the following types of questions:
Open question questionnaires. Open questions differ from other types of questions used in questionnaires in a way that open questions may produce unexpected results, which can make the research more original and valuable. However, it is difficult to analyze the results of the findings when the data is obtained through the questionnaire with open questions.
Multiple choice questions. Respondents are offered a set of answers they have to choose from. The downsize of questionnaire with multiple choice questions is that, if there are too many answers to choose from, it makes the questionnaire, confusing and boring, and discourages the respondent to answer the questionnaire.
Dichotomous Questions. This type of questions gives two options to respondents – yes or no, to choose from. It is the easiest form of questionnaire for the respondent in terms of responding it.
Scaling Questions. Also referred to as ranking questions, they present an option for respondents to rank the available answers to the questions on the scale of given range of values (for example from 1 to 10).
Survey Monkey represents one of the most popular online platforms for facilitating data collection through questionnaires. Substantial benefits offered by Survey Monkey include its ease to use, presentation of questions in many different formats and advanced data analysis capabilities.
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