Development of Survey Instruments

Surveys are instruments that researchers use to obtain information. Surveys may have varied objectives, and such variety allows researchers to tailor the design depending on the methodology that was selected and the goals that the investigators have. Researchers obtain data by following standardized procedures with the aim to generate responses from subjects where each person answers in a uniformed manner, avoiding bias or invalid responses that can negatively affect the study. A survey implies soliciting information using a questionnaire and, as such, can be distributed in paper or using newer techniques that involve technology. Such digital mediums include using social media, email, QR codes, or specialized websites.

Survey Characteristics

Investigators need to observe or learn about a phenomenon, thus generating the need to create a system to collect information. To create and conduct a survey, researchers will need to establish a population of individuals who share common characteristics and select a representative sample of these individuals. Such a sample will allow researchers to generalize about the overall population from which the sample was derived. For example, a sample of voters is obtained before an election and surveyed to attain the opinion of voters regarding candidates. If the sample is scientific and representative, those that developed the survey can make determinations regarding the overall population’s opinion regarding the candidates.

Surveys come in different forms and have an ample variety of purposes; however, there are also some similarities. In scientific surveys, for example, researchers determine samples by using specific methodologies so that all individuals within a specific population have the same probability of being selected. Non-scientific surveys do not have this characteristic; however, the results of the study where the survey was used cannot be generalized. The exact size of samples varies depending on the requirements of the research. In experimental or quasi-experimental research studies, sample sizes are determined based on the size of the population using a mathematical formula. Non-experimental or non-scientific research does not have this requirement, and the sample size can depend on the needs of the organization developing the study and the budget available to conduct the research. Another common characteristic among surveys is that data is retrieved using questions. The style and type of question may vary; however, the data that researchers obtain is used to develop a statistical summary. Investigators then present the results as summaries, tables, and statistical formats.

Survey Uses

In business, researchers use surveys and focus groups to understand what people think about a product or service. A business launching a new flavor of ice cream, for example, can survey a sample of their target market before deciding on creating a new flavor. In today’s rich data-intensive world, businesses and government need to recognize what people want. Furthermore, such understanding needs to include overall human behavior, preferences, and needs, forcing companies to develop surveys as a mechanism to collect data.

Most surveys are not available to the public, as they are private instruments used by organizations to collect data. The most commonly-known surveys are known because of the results that the survey owners communicate and publish and are available through websites or academia. The popularity of using this type of method to collect information is based on the growing ease of developing the device and the ease of dissemination to obtain answers. Companies no longer must spend large sums of money developing, mailing, and collecting results. Most organizations can access services that help create questionnaires (and collect results instantly. While questionnaires are not always used to collect the data a survey needs (they can be used to simply gather information about individuals), they help acquire useful information that may enhance the data gathered from the survey. For instance, the answers to open-ended questions can be logged into a database to turn to in the case of strange or unexpected results

Adam Torkildson