This module discusses the purpose and use of surveys as a descriptive research method, as well as provides an introduction to the survey process.
Describe the purpose and use of surveys in descriptive research
Describe basic survey designs
Explain the survey process and methods for survey administration and delivery
Discuss other issues to consider
The following YouTube video, Research Methods – Surveys, provides an overview of the use of surveys as a means of data collection in research. The topics in this video will be discussed briefly in this introductory module and will be described more thoroughly in subsequent modules.
A survey is a method of gathering information from a subset (sample) of a particular population of interest. Surveys are commonly used to ask questions about things such as behaviors, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, symptoms, and demographic characteristics. Surveys are useful in that a researcher is able to gather information that is not likely be to be available from another source and the information gathered usually provides an unbiased representation of the target population. Surveys also provide a means of standardizing the data collection because the same data is collected from every respondent. There are two broad categories of surveys: questionnaires and interviews. A questionnaire is typically a paper-and-pencil or computerized instrument that ask respondents a standard list of questions that are typically short, closed-ended questions. Questionnaires may be given to individuals or may be administered to groups. Interviews are a more personal form surveying that allows the researcher to work directly with each respondent and ask follow up questions if necessary. Conducting interviews is obviously more time-consuming but may be very helpful when trying to gather information regarding opinions or impressions. There are several basic categories of survey design as follows: Cross-sectional Surveys – The data is collected at one point in time from a sample that represents a larger target population
Longitudinal Surveys– Used to study data that may change over time. The three main types of listed below:
Trend – Surveying a sample population at different points in time.
Cohort – Surveying the same target population repeatedly, but the samples within the population being studied may be different.
Panel – Collection of data at various time points with the same sample respondents.
Once the overall design of the survey has been determined, there are a variety of other factors to consider that impact the overall design of the project. Following is a list of the most important issues that will need to be addressed and links for additional information on each.
Survey Administration– How the survey will be administered depends on whether the survey is a questionnaire or an interview. Common methods of administering surveys include: in person, telephone, mail, email, or web-based surveys. Some of the factors that need to be considered in making this decision include the characteristics of the sample population, the types of questions, the anticipated response rate, cost and time.
Writing Good Survey Questions- Writing good survey questions is a critical part of the survey process because the quality of the questions and the structure of survey will impact the reliability and validity of the data. The following links provide great tips for writing good questions.
Sampling and Choosing Participants –Researchers must spend time considering the target population, how to sample it, the appropriate sample size, and how to reduce bias. These topics are covered in the resources below.
Survey Response Rate- The response rate of a survey is very important to the credibility of the research results. The following links discuss how to determine an appropriate response rate to a survey and how to increase responses.
Once the survey has been designed and delivered, the data that is collected will need to be analyzed. Survey data is slightly different than data from other descriptive methods in that it may lend itself better to quantitative analysis. For example, the researcher can examine the number of respondents that choose response A over B or C. This is especially true with data collected from written or computer based surveys and questionnaires. Surveys that are done as interviews may provide more open-ended data in a narrative form that must be analyzed using qualitative methods. When choosing a descriptive method for a research study, surveys also offer the advantage of being able to reach a larger number of participants and collect a greater amount of data.
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