Survey Pointers

Topics: Questionnaire construction, Questionnaire, Data collection Pages: 12 (3262 words) Published: April 10, 2005

Julhusin B. Jalisan

"The rightful concern of statisticians is the use of science to provide relevant information on large populations,
to be made available to decision agents
within a short period of time and
of acceptable quality."

Vicente T. Paterno

n this fast changing world, problems in almost all fields of human endeavor have to be solved and resolved on scientific bases. The influence of decisions based on quantitative information has never been more evident than in the present decade especially with the use of modern technology. Indeed, the growing complexities of the activities and functions of the various fields of endeavor have made the use of statistics imperative.

However, one major problem among statisticians, under a given circumstance and budgetary constraints, is the production of reliable data due to built-in biases of the collectors and/or respondents.

In many cases, the main cause of failure in any research undertaking is the wrong choice of method in the collection of data. This is especially true in the case of survey. While the confidence level can be established as basis for accepting the representativeness of the samples, and variability can be computed for estimating probable sampling errors, it is virtually impossible to do the same due to errors introduced through bias either positively or negatively.

Perhaps the most important point to remember is that, despite the formidable arrays of formulae, statements of confidence, and tests of significance, the quality of data collected is the most important aspect of any survey. The information generated by statistical manipulation can only be as good as the data upon which it was based. The adage "Garbage In, Garbage Out" (Smith, 1981), therefore, should be borne in mind when designing surveys and gathering data, so that the processing of the data will bear useful results.


Surveys are usually undertaken to provide answers for researchers on problem situations. Sometimes, however, a researcher just wants to establish a baseline on particular aspects of a situation against which to subsequently measure progress.

In any survey work, the first task is to identify the problem. Frequently, the researcher's objective is only half formulated, ambiguous, or a statement of observed symptoms about which he or she is concerned. Often, this is expressed as a question. One must get clear guidance on what to study before acting to develop a questionnaire or a lot of time and effort will go for naught. Once the purpose or problem has been stated in an objective manner, the need for a study will become clearer, and detailed survey questions can be formulated. In developing a concise statement of the problem, the following guide questions can be of help (Anderson, 1952):

 What new knowledge to be obtained?
 What hypothesis to be tested?
 What problem to be solved?
 What types of information should shed new light on the prevailing situation?

Brainstorming is a useful technique for establishing the purpose. Accepting the suggestions of several other interested participants, uncritically, is a good way to get started.

General Guidelines for Questionnaire Design

Discussed below are some important points to remember when preparing a questionnaire.

Single Purpose. Whenever possible, limit the survey to a single purpose. A poor, but frequent, practice is to try to accommodate several different things in one survey, rationalizing that it does not take much longer to ask another question while there, and it is cheaper than running a separate survey, etc. Unfortunately, a "multi-purpose shopping expedition" usually results in a cumbersome document that may never be completely analyzed, but which will effectively hinder the gathering and processing of data for the primary intended purpose. Furthermore, a sample survey that is properly...

Cited: Anderson, R. L. and T. A. Bancroft. Statistical Theory in Research. McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1952.
Shao, Stephen P., Statistics for Business and Economics, Ohio, USA: Charles E. Merril Publishing Co., 1967.
Smith, Kenneth F., Applied Survey Methods for Development Projects, The US Agency for International Development Training Center, 1981.
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