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Surveys as a Research Method: The Backbone of Quantitative Research is Within Your Organization's Reach


It is vitally important that you pre-test your survey before administering it to your research sample.  Pre-testing is the opportunity to see what questions work well, what questions sound strange, what questions can be eliminated and what needs to be added.  Is the survey too long?  Are respondents losing interest?  Do they understand the questions? 

The first thing to do is to talk through the survey by yourself, with colleagues or friends.  Take notes on problematic words or questions and revise the survey accordingly.  After that, your pre-tests can be tried out on friends, family or colleagues, but ideally you would like to try it out first on people who from or similar to the population that you plan to study. If you get participatory in your survey design, you should be in good shape. This way you can get a better idea of how your sample will really react.  Ask-follow up questions to make sure they understand and are giving valid answers.  Take notes on their reactions and be aware of whether they seem to be losing interest.  Revise the survey as necessary. 

A few additional resources on pre-testing can be found here: Cognitive-Interviewing Technique

 Once you have dealt with these important questions, you should have your survey designed and written, and you should have a plan for conducting the survey, collecting and analyzing your data.  It is the moment you have been waiting for! But there is still lots of work to be done, and a whole new set of questions will pop up:

How do we deal with unexpected problems during survey collection? Your Research Method should guide your data collection, but there will always be unexpected issues that arise. 

Troubleshooting Tips:

Any number of issues can arise when you are collecting your survey data, and there is no way we can give you a list of every potential problem.  But here are a few issues that our research team and others have encountered with some potential solutions. 

Problem: We have too many missing, “Don’t know” or “Other” responses to certain questions.

  • You might want to rewrite those items to make sure that the question is clear and that the response options are exhaustive.  If you get many of the same responses written in as “Other”, you might consider adding that option to the survey.  If necessary, you can always delete problematic questions.

Problem: People are not following instructions – for example, they give multiple responses for a single response item.

  • Make sure that all of your directions are clear and easy to see.  Use a larger font and make them prominent on the page.

Problem: People are not finishing the survey.

  • This suggests that your survey might be too long.  Go through your questions and eliminate any items that are not vital to your research questions.


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