In “Online Data Collection: Strategies for Research,” Darcy Haag Granello and Joe E. Wheaton outline 12 easy steps for successful online data collection. Their approach shows a reassuring amount of common sense, and it’s worth looking at some of the ways that Surveier helps follow the steps they describe.
1. Determine the population to be measured.
The authors state the key question: Will the target sample accurately reflect the population? This is a research design question, so it’s not one that can be settled easily here. Answering the question involves doing some preliminary research about the target population. How does the target population normally use online materials? Does the target population have a reasonable percentage of people with online access? Research about specific groups, such as the studies conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, can help you make sure that your study will reach its intended target.
2. Determine whether an e-mail or a Web-based survey will be used.
These researchers focus on two different online data collection methods, one where respondents receive questions and send back responses in e-mail and another where respondents answer an online survey on a Web page. Surveier is designed for the second option, where respondents answer survey questions on a Web page. This approach gives researchers several benefits, including the ability to offer different question types, like slider bars and multiple choice questions, and the pooling of data in a central and secure location.
If survey builders want to communicate with respondents over e-mail, Surveier can send out e-mails either on demand or at a scheduled time.
3. Develop the layout of the survey and the type of format for the questions.
4. Write the questions.
Surveier provides several question types, including multiple choice, multiple selection (which are multiple choice questions where respondents can choose more than one answer), open response, slider bar, matrix, and file upload questions. The system allows embedding of pictures, videos, and audio files, and instruction text can use design elements like different fronts, alignment, or tables.
5. Keep the layout simple, with easy-to-read fonts and a consistent layout throughout.
While Surveier’s instruction text boxes provide a lot of flexibility, the question text for individual questions is set for color and size. This ensures that all surveys have a clear, clean, and consistent look. Small typographic shifts, like bold or italics, are used to set off different parts of a question like subheaders or titles. If a survey needs to have different defaults involving font size or color, Surveier can design a custom look for that survey.
6. Be sure to address informed consent issues, including the name and contact information of the researcher.
The instruction text box in Surveier allows plenty of space to list consent information. Isolating the consent on the first page of the survey is a good way to separate consent from content, and making the consent question required or branched (with a “no” answer branching to the end of the survey) are nice safety features for making sure that only consenting participants can see the survey questions.
7. Determine how data will be entered into the computer.
8. Practice putting in data.
Surveier supports testing and entering practice data. During this testing phase, it’s a good idea to try to enter in non-ideal data. For example, try typing out numbers instead of using numerals, and try leaving questions blank. Once testers have entered practice data, it’s easy to download the data set and pull it into SPSS, SAS, or whatever system you’ll be using to analyze it.
With that practice data in hand, you can judge what you want each report column header label to be, what you want your report values to be, and whether or not you’d like to have question validation or required questions.
9. Include “error detection” variables in anonymous Web-based surveys.
Surveier handles this part of the process automatically. If someone is trying to take an anonymous survey for a second time from the same browser, the system can detect this duplication and direct the respondent to wherever the system’s settings direct. For some surveys, multiple responses from the same person would be fine (as with a “reporting” or feedback survey, where respondents are supposed to submit a survey every time they see something particularly positive or negative). At other times, when the responses need to occur at a one-to-one rate, the survey can be set so that respondents who have already completed the survey are routed to a “you have already completed this survey” page.
This system is rigorous, but not yet perfect. If someone tries to enter the survey again from a different computer and web browser, these protections will fail, but that’s true of all reputable anonymous data collection systems.
10. Pilot the study using a subset of the target population.
Surveier provides options for working with data collected at two different timepoints. The pilot data can be separated from the actual study’s data by building two different surveys, or they can be collected off of the same survey but labeled appropriately in two different data bundles.
11. Determine the schedule for initial mailing, including e-mail posting and reminders.
Surveier can allow scheduling in advance for the survey itself (to close or open the survey at certain dates or times) and also for different kinds of e-mails to respondents (all respondents who haven’t started the survey, for example, or all respondents who have started but not completed the survey).
12. Download the data frequently.
Surveier has different report settings to help with monitoring data as it’s collected. For example, researchers can choose to see all data, including partial or incomplete submissions, or to see only complete submissions.
While the article by Granello and Whaton approaches data as something that has to be first archived and then (the original) destroyed, the security checks and permissions level of Surveier mean that data can remain safely in the system but still be available to authorized team members. Downloading-and-deleting is of course still an option, as Surveier offers ways to delete responses both individually and collectively.
These twelve steps offer excellent advice for online researchers, and Surveier accommodates the process with intelligent default settings and plenty of advanced options. Researchers interested in trying out Surveier can sign up for a 30-day trial or contact us with additional questions.
Granello, D. H., & Wheaton, J. E. (2004). Online data collection: Strategies for research. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82(4), 387-393.