Saturday, October 04, 2008

Online surveys tools for social research

I am currently investigating social research to analyze people’s interaction with reactive systems. I often refer to the book: Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound: A Practical Handbook for Social Research by Martin W Bauer & George D. Gaskell that I recommend to be introduced to the broad range of techniques available for the systematic analysis of social data that is not numeric. It makes the key point that neither quantitative nor qualitative methods are interpretive and at the same time demonstrates once and for all that neither a constructivist perspective nor a qualitative approach needs to imply abandonment of rigor.

I wonder about questionnaires and online surveys. Software to generate online questionnaires could help survey a population with a set of pre-defined questions. One site, Zoomerang, helps with many kinds of surveys from the customer satisfaction survey to education and non-profit surveys. It seems to program your questions or suggest the best way to get the feedback you need. The system hosts your surveys to keep heavy survey traffic away from your main site, and to not influence your results with your personal host. If you have no time for running in organizing a clean survey, the system converts paper-and-pencil questionnaire into a high performance online survey for higher participation, faster response and easy analysis.

Every choice you make regarding materials, question delivery, and, of course, context, directly influence the attention and type of response that you’re going to get from a subject. Rethinking some of my previous survey work, and the availability of tools such as this, I wonder in which areas, if any, old-school pencil and paper would win out. For instance, in one recent study, I was interested in aspects of an individual’s personal music listening life. Questions were purposely open-ended to allow the subjects the flexibility of considering many different contexts of listening to support general self assessments like, “I consider myself expert in popular music.” In the moment, subjects would ask many different unexpected questions to relate their individual experiences under such global questions. “I grew up in the 60s. It’s completely part of my life, but not really popular today. Does that count?” Or, “I am expert in theory, composition, and music form. Does that theoretical knowledge make me expert despite that I don’t like popular music?” Space for these unpredictable questions was critical to getting an accurate picture of diverse forms of “expertise.” In the end, I wonder if an online survey system could leave a space open like many styles of survey need.

However, it seems that such online surveys tool could collect powerful feedback fast as well as provide you with advanced analytics, cross-tab features for in depth study, etc.. so probably the fastest and most reliable way to obtain quick data.

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