SURVEY Research

Asking People about Themselves.

"A general evaluation an inspection".
"An examination or inspection carried out with specific aims in mind a search for particular kinds of information.This sense is carried in a number of specific kinds of research designs in which questionnaire inventories or interviews may be employed to gather information about attitudes, and opinions or preferences in a society or some segment of it".

Survey is a method of scientific investigation in which a large sample of people answer questions about their attitudes or behavior.
Everyone has probably heard of this and many of you have been involved in research involving surveys. They are often used in the news, especially to gather viewer opinions such as during a race for president.


Can gather large amounts of information in a relatively short time, especially now with many surveys being conducted on the internet.


Survey data is based solely on subjects’ responses which can be inaccurate due to outright lying, misunderstanding of the question, placebo effect, and even the manner in which the question is asked.

Uses of Surveys
  • Surveys are used in research by social scientists such as political scientists, psychologists and sociologists for a variety of reasons.
  • Surveys are also used to meet the more needs of political candidates, public health officials, advertising and marketing directors.
  • Surveys generally involve sampling.
  • Surveys are also characterized by their use of a set of predetermined questions for all respondents.Oral or written responses to these questions constitute the principal data obtained in a survey.By using the some phrasing and ordering of questions, it is possible to summarize the views of all respondents succinctly (briefly).
  • Another advantage of asking questions systematically is that doing so makes it possible to describe relationship among variables.
The survey is a non-experimental, descriptive research method. Surveys can be useful when a researcher wants to collect data on phenomena that cannot be directly observed (such as opinions on library services). Surveys are used extensively in library and information science to assess attitudes and characteristics of a wide range of subjects, from the quality of user-system interfaces to library user reading habits. In a survey, researchers sample a population. Basha and Harter (1980) state that "a population is any set of persons or objects that possesses at least one common characteristic." Examples of populations that might be studied are 1) all 1999 graduates of GSLIS at the University of Texas, or 2) all the users of UT General Libraries. Since populations can be quite large, researchers directly question only a sample (i.e. a small proportion) of the population.

Types of Surveys

Data are usually collected through the use of questionnaires, although sometimes researchers directly interview subjects. Surveys can use qualitative (e.g. ask open-ended questions) or quantitative (e.g. use forced-choice questions) measures. There are two basic types of surveys: cross-sectional surveys and longitudinal surveys. Much of the following information was taken from an excellent book on the subject, called Survey Research Methods, by Earl R. Babbie.

1. Cross-Sectional Surveys

Cross-sectional surveys are used to gather information on a population at a single point in time. An example of a cross sectional survey would be a questionnaire that collects data on how parents feel about Internet filtering, as of March of 1999. A different cross-sectional survey questionnaire might try to determine the relationship between two factors, like religiousness of parents and views on Internet filtering.

2. Longitudinal Surveys

Longitudinal surveys gather data over a period of time. The researcher may then analyze changes in the population and attempt to describe and/or explain them. The three main types of longitudinal surveys are trend studies, cohort studies, and panel studies.

Trend Studies

Trend studies focus on a particular population, which is sampled and scrutinized repeatedly. While samples are of the same population, they are typically not composed of the same people. Trend studies, since they may be conducted over a long period of time, do not have to be conducted by just one researcher or research project. A researcher may combine data from several studies of the same population in order to show a trend. An example of a trend study would be a yearly survey of librarians asking about the percentage of reference questions answered using the Internet.

Cohort Studies

Cohort studies also focus on a particular population, sampled and studied more than once. But cohort studies have a different focus. For example, a sample of 1999 graduates of GSLIS at the University of Texas could be questioned regarding their attitudes toward paraprofessionals in libraries. Five years later, the researcher could question another sample of 1999 graduates, and study any changes in attitude. A cohort study would sample the same class, every time. If the researcher studied the class of 2004 five years later, it would be a trend study, not a cohort study.

Panel Studies

Panel studies allow the researcher to find out why changes in the population are occurring, since they use the same sample of people every time. That sample is called a panel. A researcher could, for example, select a sample of UT graduate students, and ask them questions on their library usage. Every year thereafter, the researcher would contact the same people, and ask them similar questions, and ask them the reasons for any changes in their habits. Panel studies, while they can yield extremely specific and useful explanations, can be difficult to conduct. They tend to be expensive, they take a lot of time, and they suffer from high attrition rates. Attrition is what occurs when people drop out of the study.

Survey Methods

There are major four methods now we will discuss them.

1. Mail Surveys

Mail surveys represent the most common means of distributing self administered questionnaires.A principal advantage of mail survey is that they can be done quickly.Because they are self administered.Mail surveys are the best for dealing with highly personal topics.

Disadvantages or Demerits

1. Respondent will not be able to ask questions if a portion of the questionnaire is unclear.
2. The researcher has little control over the order in which the respondent proceeds through the questionnaire.
3. The most serious problem with mail surveys is one of RESPONSE BIAS.The major factor is the generally low response rate.Quite often people include in a sample are too busy or not interested enough in the study to return a completed questionnaire.Low response rates produce smaller samples.

2. Personal Interviews

When personal interviews are used to collect survey data respondents are usually contacted in their homes and trained interviewers administers the questionnaire.The personal interview allows much greater flexibility in asking questions than the mail survey.In a personal interview the respondent can obtain classification of unclear questions.The response rate to personal interviews has been much higher than that to mail survey.

Disadvantages or Demerits

1. High cost
High cost results because the use of trained interviewers is expensive in terms of both money and time.
2. Interviewer bias
The interviewer should be a natural medium through which questions and answers are transmitted.Interviewer bias occurs when the interviewer tries to adjust the wording of question to "fit" the respondents or records only selected portions of respondent's answers.In trying to clarify the respondent's answers the interviewer must be careful not to introduce ideas that may then become part of the respondent's subsequent answers.

3. Telephonic Interviews

Prohibitive travel costs and the difficulties involved in supervising interviewers when personal interviews are used have led many survey researchers to turn to telephonic interview.

Disadvantages or Demerits

1. The poor and those in rural areas were unlikely to have a phone.
2. Telephonic interviewing also provides access to dangerous neighborhood, locked buildings and respondents available only during evening hours.
3. Selection bias
When respondents are limited to those people who have telephones and the problem of interviewer bias remains.There is a limit to
how long respondents are willing to stay on the phone.

4. Online Surveys
  • Can use web or e-mail.
  • Web is preferred over e-mail because interactive HTML forms can be used.
  • Often inexpensive to administer.
  • Very fast results.
  • Easy to modify.
  • Response rates can be improved by using Online panels - members of the panel have agreed to participate.
  • If not password-protected, easy to manipulate by completing multiple times to skew results.
  • Data creation, manipulation and reporting can be automated and/or easily exported into a format which can be read by PSPP,DAP or other statistical analysis software.
  • Data sets created in real time.
  • Some are incentive based (such as Survey Vault or You Gov).
  • May skew sample towards a younger demographic compared with CATI.
  • Often difficult to determine/control selection probabilities, hindering quantitative analysis of data.
  • Use in large scale industries.
Who Conducts Surveys

We all know about the public opinion surveys or "polls" that are reported by the press and broadcast media. For example, the Gallup Poll and the Harris Survey issue reports periodically describing national public opinion on a wide range of current issues. State polls and metropolitan area polls, often supported by a local newspaper or TV station, are reported regularly in many localities. The major broadcasting networks and national news magazines also conduct polls and report their findings.

The great majority of surveys, though, are not public opinion polls. Most are directed to a specific administrative, commercial, or scientific purpose. The wide variety of issues with which surveys deal is illustrated by the following listing of actual uses
  • Major TV networks rely on surveys to tell them how many and what types of people are watching their programs.
  • Statistics Canada conducts continuing panel surveys of children (and their families) to study educational and other needs.
  • Auto manufacturers use surveys to find out how satisfied people are with their cars.
  • The U.S. Bureau of the Census conducts a survey each month to obtain information on employment and unemployment in the nation.
  • The U.S. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research sponsors a periodic survey to determine how much money people are spending for different types of medical care.
  • Local transportation authorities conduct surveys to acquire information on commuting and travel habits.
  • Magazine and trade journals use surveys to find out what their subscribers are reading.
  • Surveys are conducted to ascertain who uses our national parks and other recreation facilities.
Surveys provide an important source of basic scientific knowledge. Economists, psychologists, health professionals, political scientists, and sociologists conduct surveys to study such matters as income and expenditure patterns among households, the roots of ethnic or racial prejudice, the implications of health problems on people's lives, comparative voting behavior, and the effects on family life of women working outside the home.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Surveys

  • It is an efficient way of collecting information from a large number of respondents.Very large samples are possible. Statistical techniques can be used to determine validity, reliability, and statistical significance.
  • Surveys are flexible in the sense that a wide range of information can be collected.They can be used to study attitudes, values, beliefs, and past behaviors.
  • Because they are standardized, they are relatively free from several types of errors.
  • They are relatively easy to administer.
  • There is an economy in data collection due to the focus provided by standardized questions.Only questions of interest to the researcher are asked, recorded, codified, and analyzed.Time and money is not spent on tangential questions.
  • Cheaper to run.
  • They depend on subjects’ motivation, honesty, memory, and ability to respond. Subjects may not be aware of their reasons for any given action.They may have forgotten their reasons.They may not be motivated to give accurate answers, in fact, they may be motivated to give answers that present themselves in a favorable light.
  • Structured surveys, particularly those with closed ended questions, may have low validity when researching affective variables.
  • Although the individuals chosen to participate in surveys are often randomly sampled, errors due to non-response may exist.That is, people who choose to respond on the survey may be different from those who do not respond, thus biasing the estimates.For example, polls or surveys that are conducted by calling a random sample of publicly available telephone numbers will not include the responses of people with unlisted telephone numbers, mobile (cell) phone numbers, people who are unable to answer the phone (e.g., because they normally sleep during the time of day the survey is conducted, because they are at work, etc.), people who do not answer calls from unknown or unfamiliar telephone numbers.Likewise, such a survey will include a disproportionate number of respondents who have traditional, land-line telephone service with listed phone numbers, and people who stay home much of the day and are much more likely to be available to participate in the survey (e.g., people who are unemployed, disabled, elderly, etc.).
  • Survey question answer-choices could lead to vague data sets because at times they are relative only to a personal abstract notion concerning "strength of choice".For instance the choice "moderately agree" may mean different things to different subjects, and to anyone interpreting the data for correlation.Even yes or no answers are problematic because subjects may for instance put "no" if the choice "only once" is not available.
Statistical Surveys

Statistical surveys are used to collect quantitative information about items in a population. Surveys of human populations and institutions are common in political polling and government, health, social science and marketing research. A survey may focus on opinions or factual information depending on its purpose, and many surveys involve administering questions to individuals. When the questions are administered by a researcher, the survey is called a structured interview or a researcher-administered survey. When the questions are administered by the respondent, the survey is referred to as a questionnaire or a self-administered survey.

Serial Surveys

Serial surveys are those which repeat the same questions at different points in time, producing repeated measures data. There are three basic designs for a study with more than one measurement occasion: cross-sectional design, longitudinal design, and time-series design.
  • Cross-sectional surveys use different units (respondents) at each of the measurement occasions, by drawing a new sample each time.The time intervals may be different between measurement occasions, but they are the same for all units (respondents).A study in which a survey is administered once is also considered to be cross-sectional.
  • Longitudinal surveys use the same units (respondents) at each of the measurement occasions, by recontacting the same sample from the initial survey for the following measurement occasion(s), and asking the same questions at every occasion.The time intervals may be different between measurement occasions, but they are the same for all units (respondents).
  • Time-series surveys also use the same units (respondents) at each of the measurement occasions, but the difference with longitudinal study designs is that in time-series designs both the number of measurement occasions and the time intervals between occasions may be different between units (respondents).

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