What is a Survey?
A survey is a set of questions administered to a population from which you would like to gain more information or insight about a topic. A survey can take many forms. It can include: questions about attitudes on a scale, open-ended questions where respondents write out long-form or short-form answers, options from a list, questions that evaluate the understanding of the respondent, heat maps or rankings of options about a topic, and many other forms. You can use surveys for assessment of pedagogy in your classroom; for example, to evaluate whether students are utilizing office hours or other student support options or to measure interest in changing how interactive your lectures are. You can also use surveys for research, where the surveys are designed with a research question in mind or as part of an intervention strategy.
What is a Survey Used for in Academia?
In a feedback survey, you are asking for respondents’ opinions on an event or topic with the goal of identifying areas of change for improvement or assessing how previous changes are being received. In academia, the most recognizable form of this category is the course evaluation.
In a research survey, the questions are tailored to address a specific hypothesis or research question. The data is then analyzed through various means to provide more insight into the question at hand.
Is a Survey the Right Choice for My Study?
Whether a survey is appropriate can be determined by the question: Is the data I need to answer my research question available to me through self-reporting by the respondents? Data that is self-reported includes personal thoughts, beliefs, opinions, or anything specific to the individual that you cannot obtain from another source. If you are looking to gather data on more tangible factors such as grade improvement or demographics, a survey will not be the best method for your study due to the large margins of error and bias in reporting that should be avoided unless necessary. (This bias is discussed in more detail in the Survey Delivery & Participation section if you would like to know more.)
Identify the Purpose of Your Survey
The purpose of a survey is not necessarily the same as the purpose of research (Davies 2020). For example, your research purpose may be to understand undergraduate study habit’s effects on test grades, but your survey purpose may be to determine how many students use each type of study methodology. Surveys are versatile tools than can be used for a variety of end goals such as acquiring information or testing a hypothesis, so it is important to identify the intended purpose before beginning to generate your survey or planning its administration. Surveys can also be as broad or as narrow as you want them to be, so ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve or learn from the responses of this survey? The answer to this question will direct the design of the survey you are writing.
When designing a survey, consider the overall purpose and the sample size that you are working with. Are you looking to assess the change in a small group of respondents’ outlooks on something or their habits over time? Or are you wanting a single batch of data from a large sample size that comes from a survey given once? Consider the feasibility of each option, not just which option you think will yield the best results.
Choosing a Survey Type
A survey series given over a period of time to monitor changes within a population.
|Allows the researcher to observe trends using data captured in the moment.
Requires more administration planning.
May have lower response rates due to respondents not wanting to engage the time or mental burden associated with the taking of multiple surveys (Porter, 2004).
A one-time occurrence to obtain a static view of a population at a single point in time.
Is easier to organize and administer than a longitudinal survey
Places less of a response burden on the respondent (which may increase response rates).
|Does not show any dynamic change over time, so analysis is limited to the single instance of data collection.
A hybrid of longitudinal and cross-sectional, only given once but asks respondents about multiple points in time in the same vein as longitudinal surveys.
|Allows for simplification of the survey administration while still acquiring data about changes over time.
Data may lose accuracy compared to a traditional longitudinal survey, as it relies on respondent memory of past events and emotions (DeCarlo, 2018).
Davies, R. S. (2020). Survey Administration Planning. In Designing Surveys for Evaluations and Research. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/designing_surveys/administration
Davies, R. S. (2020). Conceptualization Phase. In Designing Surveys for Evaluations and Research. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/designing_surveys/survey_concept_Design
DeCarlo, M. (2018). Types of surveys. Scientific Inquiry in Social Work. https://pressbooks.pub/scientificinquiryinsocialwork/chapter/11-3-types-of-surveys/
Porter, S. R., Whitcomb, M. E., & Weitzer, W. H. (2004). Multiple surveys of students and survey fatigue. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2004(121), 63–73. https://doi.org/10.1002/ir.101
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