A Primer on Survey Research

A Primer on Survey Research

Mary A. Hansen, Gaelebale Nnunu Tsheko
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7665-6.ch001
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This chapter presents a summary of best practices for the design, development, and analysis of quantitative survey research. The authors provide an overview of sampling procedures, as well as a summary of considerations for researchers as they develop questionnaires. Additionally, they provide descriptions of both qualitative and quantitative analyses that should be used to provide content and construct validity evidence for questionnaires. Finally, they show examples of common descriptive and inferential procedures appropriate for survey research. The goal of the chapter is to summarize factors that survey researchers should consider at all stages of their research project, from design to analysis, in order to improve survey research in practice.
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Survey research is a common form of research, yet the tenets of high quality instrument development, sampling, and data analysis are not consistently implemented in practice (Draugalis et al., 2008; Starr, 2012). Quantitative survey research uses questionnaires as tools for data collection, and serves as one of the primary research designs used to represent views, attitudes, beliefs, or opinions of a population of interest. Across organizations, survey research provides an increased understanding of phenomena, needs, experiences, and best practices; and is commonly used as an evaluation tool to examine current perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, as well as changes in these constructs over time. Survey research studies are one of the most frequently utilized methodologies by educational researchers (Hsu, 2005).

This chapter discusses best practices for the design, development, and analysis of quantitative survey research. The chapter provides novice researchers with an overview of options for design, development, administration, and analysis of quantitative survey research. At the same time, the chapter introduces more advanced quantitative analyses that can be implemented to improve questionnaires. The overarching goal of this chapter is to describe the principles that are foundational to high-quality survey research. More specifically, the purpose is fourfold.

  • Provide an overview of the sampling procedures for large scale survey research.

  • Present a framework for designing, developing, piloting, and validating questionnaires that reflect the underlying construct(s) being measured.

  • Discuss design considerations that will allow for both basic descriptive and inferential analysis.

  • Describe and show examples of basic descriptive and inferential analyses that can be conducted for quantitative survey research studies and address cautionary notes about use of these inferential procedures.

The objectives of this chapter are for the reader to be able to:

  • 1.

    Define and describe errors that commonly occur with survey research and take steps to rectify these errors.

  • 2.

    Describe and implement sampling strategies used with survey research.

  • 3.

    Recognize the sample size needed for accurate estimation of parameters.

  • 4.

    Describe the processes associated with high-quality instrument development.

  • 5.

    Create high quality items and instruments.

  • 6.

    Select appropriate analyses for survey data.



As methodology, survey research can be driven by both positivist and post-positivist paradigms. These two traditions shaping research are grounded in differing perspectives (Aliyu et al., 2014; Crosson, 2003; McGregor & Murnane, 2010). Positivism generally employs quantitative research designs for investigating phenomena, and stems from the underlying assumptions that research should involve data that are objective and measurable. Positivism differs from post-positivist approaches, which aim to describe and explore in-depth phenomena, often including a qualitative perspective. The decision to implement a specific research design is dictated by a paradigm that drives the topic under investigation, the goals of the research, and the methodological preferences of the researcher. Both positivist and post-positivist paradigms assume that relationships already exist about the phenomenon under investigation, and the purpose of research is to unearth the relationships by measuring them. Thus, survey research can be used with both paradigms. This chapter focuses on large scale, descriptive, quantitative survey research, stemming more from the positivist paradigm.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Questionnaire: An instrument used to collect data in survey research .

Factor Analysis: Advanced statistical analysis used to explore or confirm the internal structure of a questionnaire.

Descriptive Statistics: Statistical analysis used to describe results using summary statistics and graphical displays.

Inferential Statistics: Statistical analysis used to generalize results using statistical tests of significance.

Reliability: Consistency of results often examined using Cronbach’s coefficient alpha.

Random Sample: Sample selected using probability sampling techniques.

Survey Research: A type of descriptive research design that utilizes data from questionnaires.

Content validity: Validity evidence that addresses the extent to which the instrument measures the intended content area, generally examined through professional judgement.

Construct Validity: Validity evidence that addresses the extent to which the instrument measures the underlying construct, generally examined through a variety statistical and judgmental sources of information.

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