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2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6_noheaderGenerally, survey best-practices follow the basic scientific method, starting with formulating the overall research problem or goal, then designing a good set of research questions and indicators, followed by testing, training, collecting, analyzing, and reporting.

In this process many people begin by writing the questions for the survey. DON’T DO THIS!! If you want a well-designed survey, begin by framing a clear and simple question that grounds your research, and establishes your research goal. This will focus the survey on what you want to know and why, and in the end you will have useful data that will inform your decisions.

You can start by writing down WHAT you want to accomplish in your research, WHY you are doing the research, and WHO the best population is to survey. What are you going to do with the data? Is the survey objective or goal to:

  • describe characteristics, behaviors, events for a certain population?
  • make a comparison between groups or outcomes?
  • simply obtain feedback and learn about judgments or attitudes, interests, or opinions of a certain group or population?

Next, lay out the WHEN and HOW – your tools and timing.  This is critical in defining the scope of the research. The amount of time to develop the survey and collect the data are only the beginning in determining a realistic timeline and associated resource constraints. A great tool for working through the steps of designing a survey, the Survey Guide by the University of Wisconsin, describes how developing a timeline can involve workload issues, survey staffing and support availability, respondent availability, local cultural factors, holidays, and other intervening factors.

Often determining exactly what you need to discover involves knowing what is already available or what has been done previously, through a literature survey.  Finding what you need to know is followed by evaluating costs and methods against objectives, including evaluating effective survey, measurement and evaluation processes and tools. The final step before you get into developing the sample size and actual questions involves the survey “mode” – how you will contact sample members, administer questions, record responses. Determination of the survey mode requires an understanding of the target population that you will be surveying, as well as the research topic, and how you plan to use the information you gather.

So, to summarize, before you start into developing your survey questions and survey tool, the very first thing you need to do is determine your overall Survey Question:

  • WHAT you want to know (information, relationships, or differences),
  • WHY you want to know (how you will use that information when you get it),
  • WHO the best population is to survey (who will have the information to provide answers),
  • WHEN you need the information (the timeline), and
  • HOW you will gather the information (the mode).

Datassist began this Survey Series earlier this month, with the #1 Survey Myth – Sample Size, followed up by a discussion of Excellence in Surveying.  Our next article in June will focus on some survey tools, including a downloadable sample size calculation tool, and will discuss what information to consider in setting a sample size. This will be followed by articles on how to select the sample, and how to write good questions.

  • As we work through this survey series, you might try these steps and tools on a real project.
  • If you run into questions or problems, tweet the question to @datassist.

Be sure to sign up this week for our June Resource List to get some great survey tools, which will go out next Monday to subscriber members.

Datassist will show you over the next few months how to simply and effectively build the best surveys, followed by how you can build a company culture for evidence-based decision-making to provide excellence, despite being resource-strapped.

Stay tuned…

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