Designing surveys for research

During a research project, it may be decided to conduct a survey if it is considered that it will add value to the attempt to answer the research question.  This should only really be done after completing the literature review part of the project to identify if a survey is appropriate as a research tool. The literature review should indicate some themes or areas to explore in the survey.  If the literature has not been fully analysed (this can of course take time) then it can be a challenge to develop an ideal survey.

There are also other factors involved, some of which are that:

“It requires discipline in the selection of questions, in question writing, in the design, piloting, distribution and return of the questionnaires” (Bell, 2014, p. 157).

As potential respondents are very often busy, it is useful to keep the survey as clear and concise  and brief as possible and give an indication early on how long it may take and how many questions it includes. The survey must add value in some way and must enable you to address all or part of your research question. It is a very good idea to pilot test the survey before it is launched to obtain feedback on clarity, length and any technical issues for example and make sure it is as clear as possible before considering sending it out.  It is worth giving thought to who the target audience is and the best way to reach them. If the response rate is low then it may prove difficult to draw conclusions from the data.

I have recently designed a survey for my MA research project and I used the Survey Monkey (enhanced version) for this. I found the software quite easy to use and if offered a good range of questions such as multiple choice, scale rating questions and free text boxes. A link to the survey was sent out and the software collected the results and performed some of the analysis overall, for individual questions and individual responses. I was also fortunate to be able to adapt  and repurpose another survey with kind permission from the original author. Also, it is sometimes necessary to obtain ethical approval for the study from the university and this must be done in good time before sending out any surveys.

What does take time of course is actually analysing all of the data and trying to find connections and key themes which address the research question. It is really for that reason that it needed to be well designed and fit for purpose in the first place.

Overall, I found the experience really useful in  enhancing my survey design skills and I am still currently analysing the data thematically to contribute to my project.

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