Survey Methods

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Survey Methods
The survey is a non-experimental, descriptive research method. Surveys can be useful when a researcher wants to collect data on phenomena that cannot be directly observed (such as opinions on library services). Surveys are used extensively in library and information science to assess attitudes and characteristics of a wide range of subjects, from the quality of user-system interfaces to library user reading habits. In a survey, researchers sample a population. Basha and Harter (1980) state that "a population is any set of persons or objects that possesses at least one common characteristic." Examples of populations that might be studied are 1) all 1999 graduates of GSLIS at the University of Texas, or 2) all the users of UT General Libraries. Since populations can be quite large, researchers directly question only a sample (i.e. a small proportion) of the population. Types of Surveys

Instrument Design
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Types of Surveys
Data are usually collected through the use of questionnaires, although sometimes researchers directly interview subjects. Surveys can use qualitative (e.g. ask open-ended questions) or quantitative (e.g. use forced-choice questions) measures. There are two basic types of surveys: cross-sectional surveys and longitudinal surveys. Much of the following information was taken from an excellent book on the subject, called Survey Research Methods, by Earl R. Babbie. Cross-Sectional Surveys

Cross-sectional surveys are used to gather information on a population at a single point in time. An example of a cross sectional survey would be a questionaire that collects data on how parents feel about Internet filtering, as of March of 1999. A different cross-sectional survey questionnaire might try to determine the relationship between two factors, like religiousness of parents and views on Internet filtering. Longitudinal Surveys

Longitudinal surveys gather data over a period of time. The researcher may then analyze changes in the population and attempt to describe and/or explain them. The three main types of longitudinal surveys are trend studies, cohort studies, and panel studies. Trend Studies

Trend studies focus on a particular population, which is sampled and scrutinized repeatedly. While samples are of the same population, they are typically not composed of the same people. Trend studies, since they may be conducted over a long period of time, do not have to be conducted by just one researcher or research project. A researcher may combine data from several studies of the same population in order to show a trend. An example of a trend study would be a yearly survey of librarians asking about the percentage of reference questions answered using the Internet. Cohort Studies

Cohort studies also focus on a particular population, sampled and studied more than once. But cohort studies have a different focus. For example, a sample of 1999 graduates of GSLIS at the University of Texas could be questioned regarding their attitudes toward paraprofessionals in libraries. Five years later, the researcher could question another sample of 1999 graduates, and study any changes in attitude. A cohort study would sample the same class, every time. If the researcher studied the class of 2004 five years later, it would be a trend study, not a cohort study. Panel Studies

Panel studies allow the researcher to find out why changes in the population are occurring, since they use the same sample of people every time. That sample is called a panel. A researcher could, for example, select a sample of UT graduate students, and ask them questions on their library usage. Every year thereafter, the researcher would contact the same people, and ask them similar questions, and ask them the reasons for any changes in their habits. Panel studies, while they can yield extremely specific and useful explanations, can be difficult to conduct. They tend to be...
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