SOAN 2120 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6: Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing, Proper Length, Social Desirability Bias

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Chapter 6: Survey Research – 134-167:
The survey is the most widely used data-gathering technique in sociology, and it is used in
many other fields, as well. In fact, surveys are almost too popular
Despite the popularity of surveys, it is easier to conduct a survey that yields misleading or
worthless results good surveys require thought and effort
Research Questions Appropriate for a Survey:
Survey research developed within the positivist approach to social sciences
The survey asks many people (called respondents) about their beliefs, opinions,
characteristics, and past or present behaviour
Although the categories overlap, the following can be asked in a survey:
1. Behaviour how frequently do you brush your teeth?
2. Attitudes / beliefs / opinions do you think other people say many negative things about
you when you are not there?
3. Characteristics are you never married, single, divorced, separated, or widowed?
4. Expectations do you plan to buy a new car in the next 12 months?
5. Self-classification do you consider yourself to be liberal, moderate, or conservative?
6. Knowledge who was elected mayor in the last election?
Researchers warn against using surveys to ask “why?” questions “why?” questions are
appropriate, however, if a researcher wants to discover a respondent’s subjective
understanding or informal theory (i.e., the respondent’s own view of “why” he or she acts a
certain way)
Because few respondents are fully aware of the causal factors that shape their beliefs or
behaviour, such questions are not substitute for the researcher developing a consistent
causal theory of his or her own that builds on the existing scientific literature
An important limitation of survey research is that it provides data only of what a person or
organization says, and this may differ from what he or she actually does
The Logic of Survey Research:
What Is a Survey?
Survey researchers sample many respondents who answer the same questions they
measure many variables, test multiple hypotheses, and infer temporal order from questions
about past behaviour, experiences, or characteristics
Survey researchers think of alternative explanations when planning a survey, measure
variables that represent alternative explanations (i.e., control variables), then statistically
examine their effects to rule out alternative explanations
Survey research is often called correlational
Survey researchers use questions as control variables to approximate the rigorous test for
causality that experiments achieve with their physical control over temporal order and
alternative explanations
Steps in Conducting a Survey:
1. Step 1:
Develop hypothesis
Decide on type of survey (mail, interview, telephone)
Write survey questions
Decide on response categories
Design layout
2. Step 2:
Plan how to record data
Pilot test survey instrument
3. Step 3:
Decide on target population
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Get sampling frame
Decide on sample size
Select sample
4. Step 4:
Locate respondents
Conduct interviews
Carefully record data
5. Step 5:
Enter data into computers
Recheck all data
Perform statistical analysis on data
6. Step 6:
Describe methods and findings in research report
Present findings to others for critique and evaluation
Constructing the Questionnaire:
Principles of Good Question Writing:
Three principles for effective survey questions are:
1. Keep it clear
2. Keep it simple
3. Keep the respondent’s perspective in mind
Good surveys questions give the researcher valid and reliable measures they also help
respondents feel that they understand the question and that their answers are meaningful
A survey researcher must exercise extra care if the respondents are heterogeneous or come
from different life situations than his or her own
Researchers a face dilemma they want each respondent to hear exactly the same question,
but will the questions be equally clear, relevant, and meaningful to all respondents?; if
respondents have diverse backgrounds and frames of reference, the exact same wording
may not have the same meaning
A researcher would not know whether the wording of the question or the difference in
respondents accounted for different answer
Question writing is more of an art than a science it takes skill, practice, patience, and
The principles of writing questions are illustrated in the following 12 things to avoid when
writing survey questions:
Things to Avoid
Not Good
A Possible Improvement
1. Jargon, slang.
Did you drown in brew until you
were totally blasted last night?
Last night, how much beer did
you drink?
2. Vagueness
Do you eat out often?
In a typical week, about how
many meals do you eat away
from home, at a restaurant,
cafeteria, or other eating
3. Emotional language
“The respected Grace
Commission documents that a
staggering $350 billion of our tax
dollars are being completely
wasted on poor procurement
practiced, bas management,
sloppy book-keeping, ‘defective’
contract management, personnel
How important is it to you that
Congress adopt measures to
reduce government waste?
Very important
Somewhat important
Neither important or unimportant
Somewhat unimportant
4. Prestige bias
Abuses, and other wasteful
practices. Is cutting pork barrel
pending and eliminating
government waste a top priority
for you
Not important at all
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5. Double-barred
Do you support or oppose raising
social security benefits and
increased spending for the
Do you support or oppose raising
social security benefits?
Do you support or oppose
increasing spending on the
6. Beliefs as real
Do you think more educated
people smoke less?
What is your education level? Do
you smoke cigarettes?
7. Leading questions
Did you do your patriotic duty and
vote in the last election for
Did you vote in last month’s
mayor election
8. Issues beyond
Two years ago, how many hours
did you watch TV every month?
In the past two weeks, about how
many hours do you think you
watched TV on a typical day?
9. False premises
When did you stop beating your
Have you ever slapped, punched,
or hit your girl / boyfriend?
10. Distant future
After you graduate from college,
get a job, and are settled, will you
invest a lot of money in the stock
Do you have definite plans to put
some money into the stock
market within the coming two
11. Double negatives
Do you disagree with those who
do not want to build a new city
swimming pool?
There is a proposal to build a new
city swimming pool. Do you agree
or disagree with the proposal?
12. Unbalanced
Did you find the service at our
hotel to be, outstanding, excellent,
superior, or good?
Please rate the service at our
hotel: outstanding, very good,
adequate, or poor
Aiding Response Recall:
Recalling events accurately takes more time and effort than the five seconds the respondents
have to answer survey questions
Survey researchers recognize that memory is less trustworthy than was once assumed it is
affected by many factors: the topic, events occurring simultaneously and subsequently, the
significance of an event for a person, situational conditions (question wording and interview
style, and the respondent’s need to have internal consistency
The complexity of respondent recall does not mean that survey researchers cannot ask about
past events; rather, they need to customize questions and interpret results cautiously
Types of Questions and Response Categories:
Threatening Questions:
Survey researchers sometimes ask about sensitive issues or issues that respondents may
believe threaten their presentation of self, such as questions about sexual behaviour, drug or
alcohol use, mental health problems, or deviant behaviour
Respondents may be reluctant to answer the questions or to answer completely and truthfully
Threatening questions are part of a larger issue of self-presentation and ego protection
respondents often try to present a positive image of themselves or others
They may underreport or self-censor reports of behaviour or attitudes they wish to hide or
believe to be in violation of social norms; alternatively, they may over-report positive
behaviours or generally accepted beliefs
Researchers should ask threatening questions only after a warm-up, when the interviewer
had developed rapport and trust with the respondents, and they should tell respondents that
they want honest answers they can phrase questions in an “enhanced way” to provide a
context that makes it easier for respondents to give honest answers
Also, by embedding a threatening response within more serious activities, it may be made to
seem less deviant
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