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By Dr.Karl Ho, Research and Statistical Support Services Manager

Web Survey DIY

A graduate student came to me about four years ago and asked me to help her to launch a survey. Touched by her enthusiasm and genuine interest in an academic topic, I laid out the game plan for her to follow through: first identify your goal and target respondents (say, a sample of 300), draft the questionnaire and carefully word and order the questions, then pilot test the instrument and revise it from the preliminary test, print the finalized version and send them off...... Out of empathy with the student's budget and time constraint, I subconsciously cut short the process and try to make it workable for her. When she found out the amount of work that would be involved, she started to ask me: "Can I pay someone to do that for me?"  "Yes",  I replied and I referred her to some professional services. Very soon, she came back, disappointed, and asked me to give her the list again. Clearly, she was frustrated by the price tag of doing survey via professional services out there. 

Not an uncommon situation, but I feel for the researcher every single time, particularly students who usually have a petit budget for doing first-hand survey. Not every research project can find funding from a big external fund or endowment such as the National Science Foundation. In fact, in a lot of cases, it is not necessary to have big money to do high-power research (remember Richard Feynman's O-ring experiment?). In fact, we have some new options.

A new support area for survey researchers

With the advent of the Internet and optical recognition technology, we have recently developed and opened a new support area for survey researchers. The services we can provide in this new area include:

  1. Web survey consulting

  2. Questionnaire design

  3. Survey data preparation

  4. Project planning

We have acquired two new software packages to provide tools for researchers to do surveys on their own. TELEform is a suite of applications that help in almost every procedure in a questionnaire-type survey. It includes designing the questionnaire, rendering the instrument as a scannable form or an interactive Portable Document Format (PDF) file, verifying returned questionnaire and automated entry of data into SPSS, Excel or SAS formats. A high-speed scanner is in place to process high-volume scanning while professional data entry specialists can assist with the verification and data conversion process.

The other software, SurveySolutions for the Web, helps researchers to convert a questionnaire on word processor format into Microsoft FrontPage forms. We currently have short courses that train users to design FrontPage Web surveys. With SurveySolutions for the Web, we can now help customers to easily convert a questionnaire in Word or WordPerfect format into a FrontPage form to be posted on the Web.  For more details on the Web survey process, check out my class notes at: New Technologies for Survey Research 

Equipped with these new tools, we hope to provide more versatility and a wider spectrum of functionalities for survey researchers. Researchers can stick to the old methods and print out professional looking questionnaires for face-to-face interviews or to be mailed to respondents. When these questionnaires are returned, we can send it to the scanner connected to the TELEform server where the verification and data entry process begins.

Alternatively, the researcher can convert the file into a PDF file and post it on the Internet. Responses will be received at the Web server and be rerouted to the TELEform server. For researchers who only have a small budget and/or want to focus on respondents who have access to the Internet, a Web survey will suffice and the response rate is usually higher. 

All that being said, technology alone does not preclude the key elements of survey research such as planning, sample selection, crafting of questions, etc. Observing that mediocre research prevails on the Web, we advise prudence. A highly sophisticated Web survey will not necessarily produce good findings, neither does technology always bring good stuff. With poor planning and administration, the effort and time invested can be turned into bad and even misleading findings.

Karl's tips on administering a survey

In the following I provide some links to tips on administering a survey, that I consider helpful for survey researchers:

RSS short courses: New Technologies for Survey Research I & II
Perseus* white paper: Survey 101- A Complete Guide to a Successful Survey
Perseus white paper: Seven Steps to a Successful Web Survey 
SPSS: Guidelines for creating better questionnaires 
SAS: Sample Survey Design and Analysis 

Again, it is always advisable to plan early. Contact us should you want to launch a survey yourself. Rich Herrington has just returned from a training in TELEform designer. With his new expertise, we look forward to helping researchers tap into the new technology we have recently acquired.

Rich Herrington: 

Phone: 565-2140 

Karl Ho

Phone: 565-4066

* Perseus is the developer of  SurveySolutions for the Web