While surveys vary widely in how they are conducted and used, there are a number of components that are common across nearly all surveys. Many of these common features have been studied in extensive detail by survey methodologists, psychologists, statisticians, and many other fields of research. The general process of survey research is outlined in the figure below.
Questions with ordinal response categories – those with an underlying order (e.g., excellent, good, only fair, poor OR very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, very unfavorable) – are generally not randomized because the order of the categories conveys important information to help respondents answer the question. Generally, these types of scales should be presented in order so respondents can easily place their responses along the continuum, but the order can be reversed for some respondents. For example, in one of the Pew Research Center’s questions about abortion, half of the sample is asked whether abortion should be “legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, illegal in all cases” while the other half of the sample is asked the same question with the response categories read in reverse order, starting with “illegal in all cases.” Again, reversing the order does not eliminate the recency effect but distributes it randomly across the population.
Companies often use online surveys to gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ tastes and opinions. Like traditional surveys, online surveys can be used in two basic ways: To provide more data on customers, including everything from basic demographic information (age, education level and so on) to social data (causes, clubs or activities the customer supports) To create a survey about a specific product, service or brand in order to find out how consumers are reacting to it. In contrast to traditional surveys, online surveys offer companies a way to sample a broader audience at a lower cost.
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It is also important to ask only one question at a time. Questions that ask respondents to evaluate more than one concept (known as double-barreled questions) – such as “How much confidence do you have in President Obama to handle domestic and foreign policy?” – are difficult for respondents to answer and often lead to responses that are difficult to interpret. In this example, it would be more effective to ask two separate questions, one about domestic policy and another about foreign policy.
Select a representative sample: Selecting a representative sample from your sampling frame is also important for collecting valid and reliable data about the population of interest. For example, if you are sampling from a large database of customer email addresses and only wanted one response per household, you might want to cross-check each email address against mailing addresses and remove duplicates to avoid some households having a greater probability of selection. Then you would likely draw a random sample from the remaining list of email addresses.