Analyzing Survey Results
After creating and conducting your survey, you must now process and analyze the results. These steps require strict attention to detail and, in some cases, knowledge of statistics and computer software packages. How you conduct these steps will depend on the scope of your study, your own capabilities, and the audience to whom you wish to direct the work.
Processing the Results
It is clearly important to keep careful records of survey data in order to do effective work. Most researchers recommend using a computer to help sort and organize the data. Additionally, Glastonbury and MacKean point out that once the data has been filtered though the computer, it is possible to do an unlimited amount of analysis (p. 243).
Jolliffe (1986) believes that editing should be the first step to processing this data. He writes, "The obvious reason for this is to ensure that the data analyzed are correct and complete . At the same time, editing can reduce the bias, increase the precision and achieve consistency between the tables [regarding those produced by social science computer software] (p. 100). Of course, editing may not always be necessary, if for example you are doing a qualitative analysis of open-ended questions, or the survey is part of a larger project and gets distributed to other agencies for analysis. However, editing could be as simple as checking the information input into the computer.
All of this information should be used to test for statistical significance. See our unit on Statistics for more on this topic.
Information may be recorded in any number of ways. Charts and graphs are clear, visual ways to record findings in many cases. For instance, in a mail-out survey where response rate is an issue, you might use a response rate graph to make the process easier. The day the surveys are mailed out should be recorded first. Then, every day thereafter, the number of returned questionnaires should be logged on the graph. Be sure to record both the number returned each day, and the cumulative number, or percentage. Also, as each completed questionnaire is returned, each should be opened, scanned and assigned an identification number.
Analyzing the Results
Before actually beginning the survey the researcher should know how they want to analyze the data. As stated in the Processing the Results section, if you are collecting quantifiable data, a code book is needed for interpreting your data and should be established prior to collecting the survey data. This is important because there are many different formulas needed in order to properly analyze the survey research and obtain statistical significance. Since computer programs have made the process of analyzing data vastly easier than it was, it would be sensible to choose this route. Be sure to pick your program before you design your survey - - some programs require the data to be laid out in different ways.
After the survey is conducted and the data collected, the results must be assembled in some useable format that allows comparison within the survey group, between groups, or both. The results could be analyzed in a number of ways. A T-test may be used to determine if scores of two groups differ on a single variable--whether writing ability differs among students in two classrooms, for instance. A matched T-Test could also be applied to determine if scores of the same participants in a study differ under different conditions or over time. An ANOVA could be applied if the study compares multiple groups on one or more variables. Correlation measurements could also be constructed to compare the results of two interacting variables within the data set.
Secondary analysis of survey data is an accepted methodology which applies previously collected survey data to new research questions. This methodology is particularly useful to researchers who do not have the time or money to conduct an extensive survey, but may be looking at questions for which some large survey has already collected relevant data. A number of books and chapters have been written about this methodology, some of which are listed in the annotated bibliography under "Secondary Analysis."
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Secondary Analysis
- Considerably cheaper and faster than doing original studies
- You can benefit from the research from some of the top scholars in your field, which for the most part ensures quality data.
- If you have limited funds and time, other surveys may have the advantage of samples drawn from larger populations.
- How much you use previously collected data is flexible; you might only extract a few figures from a table, you might use the data in a subsidiary role in your research, or even in a central role.
- A network of data archives in which survey data files are collected and distributed is readily available, making research for secondary analysis easily accessible.
- Since many surveys deal with national populations, if you are interested in studying a well-defined minority subgroup you will have a difficult time finding relevant data.
- Secondary analysis can be used in irresponsible ways. If variables aren't exactly those you want, data can be manipulated and transformed in a way that might lessen the validity of the original research.
- Much research, particularly of large samples, can involve large data files and difficult statistical packages.