Survey Research

Overall Design Issues

Four key issues should be considered when designing a survey or questionnaire: respondent attitude, the nature of the items (or questions) on the survey, the cost of conducting the survey, and the suitability of the survey to your research questions.

Respondent attitude: When developing your survey instrument, it is important to try to put yourself into your target population's shoes. Think about how you might react when approached by a pollster while out shopping or when receiving a phone call from a pollster while you are sitting down to dinner. Think about how easy it is to throw away a response survey that you've received in the mail. When developing your instrument, it is important to choose the method you think will work for your research, but also one in which you have confidence. Ask yourself what kind of survey you, as a respondent, would be most apt to answer.

Nature of questions: It is important to consider the relationship between the medium that you use and the questions that you ask. For instance, certain types of questions are difficult to answer over the telephone. Think of the problems you would have in attempting to record Likert scale responses, as in closed-ended questions, over the telephone--especially if a scale of more than five points is used. Responses to open-ended questions would also be difficult to record and report in telephone interviews.

Cost: Along with decisions about the nature of the questions you ask, expense issues also enter into your decision making when planning a survey. The population under consideration, the geographic distribution of this sample population, and the type of questionnaire used all affect costs.

Ability of instrument to meet needs of research question: Finally, there needs to be a logical link between your survey instrument and your research questions. If it is important to get a large number of responses from a broad sample of the population, you obviously will not choose to do a drop-off written survey or an in-person oral survey. Because of the size of the needed sample, you will need to choose a survey instrument that meets this need, such as a phone or mail survey. If you are interested in getting thorough information that might need a large amount of interaction between the interviewer and respondent, you will probably pick in-person oral survey with a smaller sample of respondents. Your questions, then, will need to reflect both your research goals and your choice of medium.

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