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A simple guide to developing surveys.
Dr. Jens J. Hansen

Dr. Jens J. Hansen has worked in education for more than four decades and his interests span research methods, adult learning, philosophy and rural education.
He has survived a suite of experiences including parenthood, building, badminton and red wine. 
By Dr. Jens J. Hansen
Published on 12/3/2008

A brief look at surveys.  This article introduces a power-point show on how to design a survey.  As viewers will find, there's a lot more to developing an effective survey than meets the eye.

A suggestion I'd seriously make is that readers may also find it useful to peruse the paper about approaches to research.  That paper, like this resource, resides in the free research resources folder and it's just below this item.   

A simple guide to developing a survey.

Being asked to complete a survey has become a relatively prominent occurrence, in fact, it's an increasingly common intrusion within the helter-skelter of contemporary daily living.  Pollsters and call-centre workers inevitably seem to trill their phone interruption just as you're sitting down to a meal; faceless researchers from unknown organisations, often without invitation, send online surveys for you to complete; strangers, without hesitation, approach you in shopping malls and ask for a moment of your time to complete a survey they're administering.  They're all seeking information so that they can sort and count responses in order to tell a story. 

And ethics, whilst obviously important, don't always feature in survey schemata.  For market researchers, there seldom appears to be any form of ethical safety net; they seemingly answer to their clients, not to research ethics committees. 

For tertiary institutions, well intentioned research ethics committees frequently seem to hinder rather than promote research[1].  This happens far too often when members of research ethics committee create firewalls of access and labyrinths of compliance requirements which they themselves do not always seem to understand.  Their demands routinely frustrate rather than assist researchers. 

Indeed, by hindering the progress of contemplated research in this way, such committees actually seem to punish individuals who just want to get on with it!  Their intention, purportedly, is to protect the public, and that's a valid remit.  But more truthfully, they're actually intent upon mainly shielding their home institution from the possibilities of litigation.  In reality, and somewhat ironically, the only litigation that might occur (and it really is a very real possibility) is a class action taken against ethics committee members by those researchers whom they so seriously and serially thwart!

But ethics committees aside, it does seem true that surveys, in particular, encroach upon our persona in one way or another.  Regrettably, it seems to us, survey instruments are not always well designed.  For that reason, we've determined that we would share this resource with you. 

The slide show that accompanies this little homily on ethics (which you may have gathered is based the experiences of some of my thesis protégés, past as well as present) attempts to redress that matter.  It does so by offering beginning researchers a pointer or three about some of the matters they might usefully think about if they want to get into the business of conducting a survey.  The slides represent a synthesis of information derived from an amalgam of sources and a host of experiences I’ve had in designing surveys and analyzing responses .

It's important to point out that the slide show is not about statistics and neither is it about how to develop and administer online surveys.  Instead, it is very generally about the design and management of surveys.  The presentation is one that I developed a few years ago for a postgraduate research methods course I was teaching and if there is any interest in the slide show, I'll develop some accompanying notes for each individual slide.  (Let me know if you want me to do that.)

To view the slide show, click here and remember, feedback about this resource is welcomed as always.  Finally, as a suggestion, why not also spend some time examining the paper on approaches to understanding research.  That particular paper can also be found under the heading Research Resources


[1] As a matter of interest, I've served as an external Chair of a Research Ethics Committee at a Teacher Education agency and I’ve also served on two other tertiary research ethics committees.  Without in any way wishing to appear arrogant, the claim that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing indeed, seems to me to be a very apposite description when it comes to summarising such committees; they’re always well intentioned but they routinely seem to take it upon themselves to be all things to all researchers – including being ultimate experts and critical commentators on research design that has already been through vigorous validation processes and countless expert-peer review-authorisation committees!