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How to Write a Simple Survey

11 Feb Posted by in Science, Statistics | Comments

Overview:  What Is a Survey?
Surveys usually measure interests, attitudes, and preferences.  They are most useful as a starting point for future research, and can be written in order to add field-testing to  student research papers on a variety of subjects.  For example, a student writing a paper on alternative automobile fuels can survey the attitudes of drivers about types of cars they might want to drive, auto emissions standards, fuel economy, and outdoor activities.

Survey Population:  Who Should Be Asked?
Surveys usually start with a few demographic questions, both as  warm-up, and because it is essential for statistical purposes to pin down specifics of the population.  Simple questions like age, sex, year in school (if students are asking other students), or age range help put people at ease and allow researchers to correlate data with other pieces of data that are important.  For the purposes of the alternative automobile fuel survey, the student asked if the respondent was a licensed driver and what type of car they owned.

How Much Do You Agree Or Disagree?
When conducting surveys, researchers not only want to know if respondents have a preference, but how much they agree or disagree. (This is usually measured on a five-point scale, called a Likert-type scale.)  Regardless of the taste tests shown on commercials, it’s not merely whether people prefer Coke or Pepsi, but how much they prefer one over the other (and what it would take to change).  People responding to the alternative fuel survey were asked how important fuel economy and gas mileage were to them, and how much they agreed with the statement, “A hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle would be too expensive and hard to maintain for me to consider buying.”  No matter how much someone might believe in alternative sources of fuel, if they also feel it is too expensive or unobtainable, it will not be a workable solution.

Why Are You Asking That Question?
Survey questions aren’t developed in a vacuum, but as a result of research about what items might be important as part of the whole problem.  In the alternative automobile fuel study, the researcher first studied the types of vehicles that were available and what types of fuels were used.  Other articles pointed out important defining information about vehicle size, fuel emissions standards, and engine performance.  Many statements were developed, and even more were discarded in the process of multiple drafts of the survey.

How to Use the Data
Even a very small survey that will only take respondents a few moments to answer will yield a great amount of data.  It is best to have a plan and carefully mark each question or statement so that the responses can be tabulated easily. (The researcher can then use simple statistical techniques to summarize responses.)  Using a simple survey will add “real-world” application to a research study.

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