Chapter 7: Asking People About Themselves: Survey Research
Why conduct Surveys? The survey method is also an important way for researchers to study
relationships among variables and ways that attitudes and behaviours change over time.
An assumption that underlies the use of questionnaires and interviews is that people are
willing and able to provide truthful and accurate answers. A response set is a tendency to
respond to all questions from a particular perspective rather than to provide answers that
are directly related to the questions. Most common response set is called social desirability
Constructing Questions to Ask
Defining the Research Objectives – there are three general types of survey questions
(attitudes and beliefs, facts and demographics, and behaviours)
Attitudes and Beliefs – focus on the ways that people evaluate and think about issues.
Facts and Demographics – factual questions ask people to indicate things they know about
themselves and their situations. Demographic information include age and gender.
Behaviours – focus on past behaviours or intended future behaviours.
Question Wording – problems include unfamiliar technical terms, vague or imprecise terms,
ungrammatical sentence structure, phrasing that overloads working memory, embedding
the question with misleading information.
Simplicity – questions that you ask in a survey should be relatively simple
Double Barreled Questions – avoid double barrelled questions that ask two things at once.
Loaded Questions – a loaded question is written to lead people to respond in one way.
Questions that include emotionally charged words such as rape, waste, immoral, ungodly, or
dangerous may influence the way that people respond and thus lead to biased conclusions.
Negative wording – avoid phrasing questions with negatives
“Yea-saying” and “nay-sing” – when you ask several questions about a topic, there is a
possibility that a respondent will employ a response set to agree or disagree with all the
Responses to Questions
Closed-Versus Open-Ended Questions – with closed-ended questions, a limited number of
response alternatives are given and with open-ended questions, respondents are free to
answer in any way they like. Close ended questions is a more structured approach while
open-ended questions require more time to categorize and therefore more costly. Open
ended questions are most useful when the researcher needs to know what people are
thinking and how they naturally view their world; close ended questions are more likely to
be used when the dimensions of the variables are well defined.
Number of Response Alternatives – with closed-ended questions, there are a fixed number
of response alternatives.
Rating scales –ask people to provide ‘how much’ judgements on any number of dimensions
(amount of agreement, liking, or confidence).
Graphic Rating Scale – requires a mark along a continuous 100mm line that is anchored
with descriptions at each end.
Semantic Differential Scale – almost anything can be measured using this scale. Allows the
concepts to be rated along three basic dimensions (evaluation, activity, and potency)
Nonverbal Scale for Children – different type of faces for example.
Labeling Response Alternatives – examples are high frequency and low frequency scales.
Finalizing The Questionaire
Formatting the Questionnaire – it is best to ask the most interesting and important
questions first to capture the attention of your respondents and motivate them to complete
the survey. Good idea to group questions together when they address a similar theme or
Refining Questions – something like pilot studies
There are two ways to administer surveys. One is to use a written questionnaire. The other
way is to use and interview format.
Questionnaires – positives – generally less costly than interviews, allow the respondent to
be completely anonymous as long as no identifying information is asked. Negatives –
requires that the respondents be able to read and understand the questions, many people
find it boring to sit by themselves reading questions and then providing answers and thus a
problem of motivation.
Personal Administration to Groups or Individuals – advantage is that you have a
captive audience that is likely to complete the questionnaire once they start it.
Mail Surveys – the mail format is a drawback because of potentially low response
rates, also no one is present to help if the person becomes confused or has a question about
Internet Surveys – hard to sample people, ultimately there is an ambiguity about the
characteristics of the individuals providing information for the study. Also, people can
Other Technologies – computerized experience- sampling
Interviews – response rates will be higher when interviews are used. People are more likely
to leave questions unanswered on a written questionnaire than in an interview. Also, the
interviewer can clarify any problems the person might have in understanding questions.
Potential problem is interviewer bias, describes all the biases that can arise from the fact
that in the interviewer is an unique human being interacting with another human.
Face to Face interviews – quite expensive and time consuming. Therefore, they are
most likely to be used when the sample size is fairly small.
Telephone Interviews – almost all interviews for large-scale surveys are done via
telephone. CATI system helps also.
Focus Group Interviews – small group of people for a few hours. Usually some sort of
monetary or gift incentive to participate. The questions tend to be open ended and they are
asked for the whole group. An advantage here is that group interaction is possible: people
can respond to one another and one comment can trigger a variety of responses.
Survey Designs To Study changes Over Time
Panel study – the same people are surveyed at two or more points in time. In a two wave
panel study, people are surveyed at two points in time; in a three wave panel study, there
are three surveys and so on. Panel studies are particularly important when the research
question addresses the relationship between one variable at time one and another variable
at some later time two.
Sampling From A Population
Population is composed of all individuals of interest to the researcher and they usually take
a sample from that population.
Confidence Intervals – when researchers make inferences about populations, they do so
with a certain degree of confidence. The confidence interval gives you information about the
Chapter 7: asking people about themselves: survey research. The survey method is also an important way for researchers to study relationships among variables and ways that attitudes and behaviours change over time. An assumption that underlies the use of questionnaires and interviews is that people are willing and able to provide t ruthful and accurate answers. A response set is a tendency to respond to all questions from a particular perspective rather than to provide answers that are directly related to the questions. Most common response set is called social desirability (faking good). Defining the research objectives there are three general types of survey questions (attitudes and beliefs, facts and demographics, and behaviours) Attitudes and beliefs focus on the ways that people evaluate and think about issues. Facts and demographics factual questions ask people to indicate things they know about themselves and their situations. Behaviours focus on past behaviours or intended future behaviours.