Survey research is prevalent among many professional fields. Both cost effective and time efficient, this method of research provides insight into the attitudes, thoughts, and opinions of populations. Because there are several types of survey research designs and data collection instruments, the researcher has the flexibility to determine which methods will work best for his or her particular study. Regardless of the method, the researcher must carefully select an existing instrument or construct the data collection instrument, as this is the key to a successful survey research study. This chapter discusses and defines survey research, provides the basic structure for conducting such research, describes the challenges surrounding survey research, provides recommendations when developing survey research studies, and presents information regarding future trends associated with survey research.
Background Of Survey Research
What is Survey Research?
Ideal for use in education, survey research is used to gather information about population groups to “learn about their characteristics, opinions, attitudes, or previous experiences” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005, p. 183). This is done by administering a questionnaire, either written or orally, to a group of respondents, and the responses to the questions form the data for the study (Berends, 2006; Best & Kahn, 2003; Fraenkel & Wallen, 2009; Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2009; Leedy & Ormrod, 2005; McMillan & Schumacher, 2006; Mertler & Charles, 2008; Polit & Beck, 2006). Gay et al. (2009) define the questionnaire, or survey, as “an instrument to collect data that describes one or more characteristics of a specific population” (p. 175). Some researchers may be able to work with the entire population, which is referred to as a census (Berends, 2006; Gay et al.; Mertler & Charles, 2008). However, most survey research is conducted with a sample of respondents from the target population. If proper sampling techniques are employed, the researcher can generalize the attitudes and ideas from the sample to the larger population (Fraenkel & Wallen; Gay et al.; Leedy & Ormrod; McMillan & Schumacher).
Why Do We Conduct Survey Research?
As previously mentioned, survey research is used to gain insight into the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and attitudes of a population. It is descriptive in nature, so unlike experimental designs, the researcher does not manipulate variables (Burns & Grove, 2005). Instead, the survey researcher describes and draws conclusions from frequency counts and other types of analysis. Although it is descriptive research, survey research may serve as a stimulus for more in depth analytical research. Many correlational and causal-comparative studies include survey research as part of the data collection process (Burns & Grove; Mertler & Charles, 2008). Researchers turn to survey research because it offers a flexible design and is appropriate for gathering a large amount of data from many different types and sizes of populations (Mertler & Charles; McMillan & Schumacher, 2006; Polit & Beck, 2006;). Finally, survey research is ideal for working with large and/or geographically dispersed populations when other methods of research are not always feasible (Best & Kahn, 2003; O’Sullivan, Rassel, & Berner, 2003; Rubin & Babbie, 2008).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Panel Study: The panel study follows the exact same group of participants over time, and the follow up study reconnects at a later time with respondents who participated in the survey previously.
Survey Research: Survey Research is used to gather information about population groups to “learn about their characteristics, opinions, attitudes, or previous experiences.”
Cohort Study: A cohort study may investigate the attitudes of high school principals who began their positions in 2009.
Longitudinal Research: This type of research involves collecting data from respondents on more than one occasion.
Electronic Surveys: Using email surveys to attach the survey to an email or provide a link to an online survey.
Trend Studies: Trend studies gather data from a particular population characterized by a specific variable, such as education level.
Cross-Sectional Research Design: This design will administer the survey to one or more samples one time only. Unfortunately, however, cross-sectional designs may only present a picture of the target population at the time that the survey was administered.