Once you have constructed a questionnaire, you'll need to make a plan that outlines how and to whom you will administer it. There are a number of options available in order to find a relevant sample group amongst your survey population. In addition, there are various considerations involved with administering the survey itself.
Administering a Survey
This section attempts to answer the question: "How do I go about getting my questionnaire answered?"
For all types of surveys, some basic practicalities need to be considered before the surveying begins. For instance, you need to find the most convenient time to carry out the data collection (this becomes particularly important in interview surveying and group-administered surveys), how long the data collection is likely to take. Finally, you need to make practical arrangements for administering the survey. Pretesting your survey will help you determine the time it takes to administer, process, and analyze your survey, and will also help you clear out some of the bugs.
Administering Written Surveys
Written surveys can be handled in several different ways. A research worker can deliver the questionnaires to the homes of the sample respondents, explain the study, and then pick the questionnaires up on a later date (or, alternately, ask the respondent to mail the survey back when completed). Another option is mailing questionnaires directly to homes and having researchers pick up and check the questionnaires for completeness in person. This method has proven to have higher response rates than straightforward mail surveys, although it tends to take more time and money to administer.
It is important to put yourself into the role of respondent when deciding how to administer your survey. Most of us have received and thrown away a mail survey, and so it may be useful to think back to the reasons you had for not filling it out and returning it. Here are some ideas for boosting your response rate:
- Include in each questionnaire a letter of introduction and explanation, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for returning the questionnaire.
- Oftentimes, when it fits the study's budget, the envelope might also include a monetary "reward" (usually a dollar to five dollars) as an incentive to fill out the survey.
- Another method for saving the responder time is to create a self-mailing questionnaire that requires no envelope but folds easily so that the return address appears on the outside. The easier you make the process of completing and returning the survey, the better your survey results will be.
- Follow up mailings are an important part of administering mail surveys. Nonrespondents can be sent letters of additional encouragement to participate. Even better, a new copy of the survey can be sent to nonresponders. Methodological literature suggests that three follow up letters are adequate, and two to three weeks should be allowed between each mailing.
Administering Oral Surveys
Oftentimes conducting oral surveys requires a staff of interviewers; to control this variable as much as possible, the presentation and preparation of the interviewer is an important consideration.
- In any face-to-face interview, the appearance of the interviewer is important. Since the success of any survey relies on the interest of the participants to respond to the survey, the interviewer should take care to dress and act in such a way that would not offend the general sample population.
- Of equal importance is the preparedness of the interviewer. The interviewer should be well acquainted with the questions, and have ample practice administering the survey with mock interviews. If several interviewers will be used, they should be trained as a group to ensure standardization and control. Interviewers also need to carry a letter of identification/authentication to present at in-person surveys.
When actually administering the survey, you need to make decisions about how much of the participants' responses need to be recorded, how much the interviewer will need to "probe" for responses, and how much the interviewer will need to account for context (what is the respondent's age, race, gender, reaction to the study, etc.) If you are administering a close-ended question survey, these may not be considerations. On the other hand, when recording more open-ended responses, the researcher needs to decide beforehand on each of these factors:
- It depends on the purpose of the study whether the interview should be recorded word for word, or whether the interviewer should record general impressions and opinions. However, for the sake of precision, the former approach is preferred. More information is always better than less when it comes to analyzing the results.
- Sometimes respondents will respond to a question with an inappropriate answer; this can happen with both open and close-question surveys. Even if you give the participant structured choices like "I agree" or "I disagree," they might respond "I think that is true," which might require the interviewer to probe for an appropriate answer. In an open-question survey, this probing becomes more challenging. The interviewer might come with a set of potential questions if the respondent does not elaborate enough or strays from the subject. The nature of these probes, however, need to be constructed by the researcher rather than ad-libbed by the interviewers, and should be carefully controlled so that they do not lead the respondent to change answers.
Phone surveys certainly involve all of the preparedness of the face-to-face surveys, but encounter new problems because of their reputation. It is much easier to hang-up on a phone surveyor than it is to slam the door in someone's face, and so the sheer number of calls needed to complete a survey can be baffling. Computer innovation has tempered this problem a bit by allowing more for quick and random number dialing and the ability for interviewers to type answers programs that automatically set up the data for analysis. Systems like CATI (Computer-assisted survey interview) have made phone surveys a more cost and time effective method, and therefore a popular one, although respondents are getting more and more reluctant to answer phone surveys because of the increase in telemarketing.