Web based questionnaires are just one of many tools available to the social researcher. They should be used as part of an overall project design. The research needs to be planned and thought out as rigorously as any other research project. An online survey is not necessarily easier to implement than a paper based one: there are some advantages but there are also problems. Technical computing expertise is needed, in addition to the analytical skills necessary for any research. These notes are designed to help you ensure that an online survey is the most appropriate approach for your project. Please think through the issues raised below before embarking on a web based survey. They are set out as a series of questions, to which you will find it helpful to write down answers. If you cannot answer all the questions, you are probably not ready to proceed with your survey.
- What is the purpose of your project?
- What are the research questions?
- What data do you need to collect in order to answer the questions?
- Is it actually possible to get some of the data you need from respondents? (e.g. is it legal? ethical? will they be willing to give it? can they express it in a way you can capture?)
- What are the likely sources of data? (there will probably be several, and not just people)
- What relevant information is already available? (e.g. management and admin records, test results, attendance sheets, previous research etc)
- Match up the data sources in 5 and 6 above with the research questions: which sources will have the answers to which questions?
- Are any of these data sources suitable for an online survey?
- Is the subject matter suitable for an online survey? (e.g. perhaps a more personal interview based approach would be more appropriate)
- How are you going to analyse and interpret the data when you have it? Will you need to export it to data processing software? (e.g. SPSS, Excel, Atlas, etc) If yes, is this possible from the survey software?
- Do all likely respondents have access to the internet? Are they willing users of it? If not, what alternative methods will you use to contact those who have not?
- Will your survey be anonymous or not? Is your chosen option available in the software you plan to use? If respondents can be identified, how will you ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998?
- Do you, or someone in your team, have the necessary IT skills to set up the online survey, manage and implement it, process the results, and troubleshoot technical problems?
- Unless you are already familiar with the software, do you have the time to learn to use it? Who will help you if you need support?
- How will you ensure that your chosen respondents co-operate by completing your questionnaire? What steps will you take to encourage compliance if you have a low return? (particularly difficult if survey is anonymous)
- Most important of all: have you planned a pilot as part of your project? If no, it is essential that you pilot every stage of your online survey (including exporting and analysing data) to make sure it will work as you expect.
IS Research and Evaluation Consultant* 23-Aug-06