Survey Research: Best Practices
Surveys are one of the most important data collection tools in social science research. Anything that gathers data by means of questions posed to respondents can be termed a survey, and surveys can vary from brief, informal instruments designed to measure small, local phenomena to lengthy, large-scale, extensively tested questionnaires administered to large, worldwide samples.
With the possibility of delivering surveys via the Internet has come an increase in the number of surveys which many people are asked to complete. Many survey researchers believe that over-surveying has led to survey fatigue, and hence to a decline in average survey response rates nationwide in the US, and at the University of Minnesota in particular.
You can help to reduce survey fatigue, and increase the response rate for your own survey, by following a few steps:
- Choose participants carefully. Be sure to target carefully the people who will receive your survey, limiting the group to those for whom the subject of your survey is most relevant. And sample rather than sending out a survey to every person in your population.
- Communicate briefly and clearly. Tell your survey recipients very clearly why they are receiving your survey, how long it will take to complete, how the survey results will be used, and how they—and not just you—will benefit from their completing it.
- Design well. Respect your respondents' time by making your survey no longer than absolutely necessary. Ask only the questions the answers to which you will actually use— rather than questions which are merely interesting. Consult survey experts and design resources to ensure that your survey is concise, unambiguous, and places as little cognitive burden on your recipients as possible.
There are many good sources of assistance for survey design, implementation, and analysis. Two of the best are:
- Dillman, D., Smyth, J.D., & Christian, L.M. (2008). Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
- William Trochim’s Research Methods Knowledge Base, particularly the section on survey research.