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Surveys. Survey. A structured way to collect standardized information from individuals using a questionnaire. Surveys may be conducted once; at repeated intervals, or concurrently with multiple samples They may be used to collect information from a few or many.

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A structured way to collect standardized informationfrom individuals using a questionnaire.

  • Surveys may be conducted once; at repeated intervals, or concurrently with multiple samples
  • They may be used to collect information from a few or many

This set of slides draws on the booklet seen at left and other resources. We will cover:

Types of surveys

Pros and cons of surveys

Steps in conducting a surveyResponse rateCover letter

checking in
Checking in…

What do you think? Answer YES or NO to

each of the following

  • A survey is always appropriate
  • Surveys are one of the most popular ways to collect information
  • An email or online survey is better than the old mail or telephone surveys
  • Careful planning is necessary
  • Advance notice to potential respondents helps increase response rate
  • A low response rate increases the likelihood of biased results

Check your answers

check your answers
Check your answers
  • A survey is always appropriate - NO
  • Surveys are one of the most popular ways to collect information - YES
  • An email or online survey is better than the old mail or telephone surveys – NO, not necessarily
  • Careful planning is necessary - YES
  • Advance notice to potential respondents helps increase response rate - YES
  • A low response rate increases the likelihood of biased results - YES
surveys are used when
Surveys are used when…

You want to collect information from individuals (vs. a group or collective)

You want standardized information from everyone

Potential respondents can read and write

You want information from many people

Privacy is important or independent opinions and responses are needed

You have resources to send, track, analyze and interpret the questionnaires

pros and cons of survey
Pros and cons of survey


  • Way to collect information from many people; dispersed people
  • Person can remain anonymous
  • Provides standardized information across respondents
  • Allows easy tabulation


  • Results can be easily biased
  • Can miss important information – questions and answer choices are predetermined
  • Requires literacy skills
will using a survey be culturally appropriate
Will using a survey be culturally appropriate?

Things to consider:

Literacy level

Tradition of reading, writing


Not best choice for people with oral tradition

Translation (demands more than just literal translation)

How cultural traits affect response

How to sequence the questions

Pretesting the questionnaire when it may be viewed as intrusive

Computer access and use if an electronic survey

types of surveys
Types of surveys
  • Hand-out
  • Mail
  • Telephone
  • Face-to-face
  • Email
  • Web survey – Online survey
  • Mixed mode: uses two or more of above

Recommendation: use a mix of modes to ensure that everyone can and does respond

which type of survey should i choose
Which type of survey should I choose?

“It depends”… upon

  • What you want to know – how complex or sensitive the information is
  • Who the respondents are – their characteristics and which type of survey will be most appropriate
  • Your time line, and
  • Available resources

If you’ve determined that a survey is the best and most appropriate way to collect information, then take some time to plan your survey.

planning a survey aspects to think about
Planning a survey: aspects to think about

Determine who should be involved in conducting the survey - - engage them

Define what information you will collect

What do you want to know?

How will use the information?

Identify the respondents

Determine sampling strategy, if a sample is to be used

Select how the survey will be distributed: telephone, mail, hand-out, email, web-based

Think about data analysis – what will the end product/final report include (keep ‘the end in mind’!)

survey planning continued
Survey planning continued…
  • Develop the questionnaire
  • Pilot test the questionnaire and other materials
  • Develop a communication strategy to garner support for the survey
  • Consider budget, timeline, and management process
    • What resources are available?
implementing your survey
Implementing your survey

For tips and examples for ‘getting your survey done’, see pages 9-15 in the Survey booklet

See the ‘Questionnaire Design’ section of this web site for help with developing your survey questionnaire.

a note on anonymity and confidentiality in surveys
A note on anonymity and confidentiality in surveys

Anonymous means that NO ONE can identify who provided the information

  • This may be difficult to assure if there is a need to follow-up with non-respondents or when the survey is administered online (internet or intranet)…so, don’t promise anonymity!

Confidentiality means that you are able to identify the person but you guarantee that the information will not be identified with the person

  • This applies to all aspects of data collection, analysis and reporting
  • When reporting and communicating, ensure that no names or other identifying information is used
response rate
Response rate

The proportion of people who respond:

Example: If you distribute 50 questionnaires and you get 25 questionnaires back, your response rate is 50%.

# that answered = response rate

# you contacted

response rate17
Response rate

High response rate promotes confidence in results.

Lower response rate increases the likelihood of biased results.

See pages 15-17 in the survey booklet

there is no standard response rate
“The higher, the better.”

Anything under 60% is a warning.

Why is a high return important?

It’s the only way to know if your results are representative.

There is no standard response rate
if your response is low address it
If your response is low, address it!
  • Determine how people who responded are different from those who didn’t respond.
  • Describe your results in terms of who did respond. Don’t imply that the results apply to anyone other than those who responded.
keys getting a high response rate
KEYS getting a high response rate
  • The survey topic is of interest to the respondents (called saliency)
  • Personalized request and communications related to the survey
  • KISS: Keep It Short and Simple
  • Follow-up
  • Trust, respect, like the sponsor
ways to increase response rate
Ways to increase response rate

Generate positive publicity for your survey.

Appeal to people’s helping tendencies – ask them to help.

Make the topic salient - seem important

Ensure that respondents see the value of participating.

Point out personal connection to the topic

Tailor, personalize communications

Make the questionnaire interesting-short and easy to complete AND easy to return

how to increase response rate cont
How to increase response rate, cont.
  • Provide incentives
  • Show positive regard; Say thank you
  • Indicate that opportunities to respond are limited
  • For mail survey, provide 1st class postage/return postage.
  • Over sample
  • Use a combination of survey modes – telephone plus mail
  • Make (multiple) follow-up contacts– by mail, email, telephone, in person…
if response rate is low
If response rate is low…

Use language that is suggestive rather than decisive.

For example: “The data suggests” vs. “The data prove”; “It appears” vs. “It shows”

Don’t generalize findings to the entire group.

Clearly describe who responded, i.e., who the data represents.

a good cover letter includes
A good cover letter includes…

The purpose of the survey and its importance

Survey sponsor − use letterhead if a mail survey

Why the respondent was selected to participate

How the information will be used

Assurance of anonymity or confidentiality - Human Subjects Protection

Instructions for returning the survey

Date - when to respond by

How results will be made available

Your contact information

cover letters tips
Cover letters − Tips

Personalize the letter in salutation or signature

Connect with the respondent

Hand-sign the letter

Express appreciation for their participation

Keep it short – not wordy

For mail survey, include pre-addressed, stamped return envelope

cover letters pilot test
Cover letters – Pilot-test

Remember to pilot -test your

cover letter just as you pilot

-Test your questionnaire!

May be a colleague or collaborator or other stakeholder will check your cover letter for you.

Is the cover letter likely to motivate the person to respond?

checking back in
Checking back in…

Spend a few minutes reflecting

on what we covered in these slides

  • What, if anything, did you learn that you didn’t know before?
  • What is one thing you will do when you develop a survey?
  • Dillman, D., Smyth, J., Christian, LM. 2009. Internet, Mail and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The tailored design method. John Wiley and Sons.
  • Fink, A. 2003. The Survey Kit. Sage Publications
  • Scheuren, F. What is a survey. American Statistical Association. Free download at


Creative research systems. The survey system, at

  • University of WI-Extension, Program Development and Evaluation
    • Collecting Evaluation Data: Surveys
    • Questionnaire Design: Asking questions with a purpose
    • Sampling