Information Technology in Survey Research

Information Technology in Survey Research

Jernej Berzelak (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Vasja Vehovar (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch318
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Data collection based on standardized questionnaires represents one of the central tools in many research areas. Early surveys date back to the 18th century (de Leeuw, 2005), while a major breakthrough came in the 1930s with the application of probability samples. By using surveys, today governments monitor conditions in the country, social scientists obtain data on social phenomena and managers direct their business by studying the characteristics of their target customers. The importance of survey research stimulates ongoing efforts to achieve higher data quality and optimized costs. Early on researchers recognized the potential of technological advances for the achievement of these goals. In the early 1970s telephone surveys started replacing expensive face-to-face interviews. Computer technology developments soon enabled computer-assisted telephone interviewing (“CATI”). The 1980s brought new approaches based on personal computers. Interviewers started to use laptops and respondents sometimes completed questionnaires on their own computers. Another revolution occurred with the Internet in the subsequent decade. The pervasive availability of Internet access, and the growing number of Internetsupported devices, coupled with the advance of interactive Web technologies (like Ajax) are facilitating developments in contemporary survey research. Internet surveys show the potential to become the leading survey approach in the future. According to the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (“CASRO”), the Internet already represents the primary data collection mode for 39% of research companies in the USA (DeAngelis, 2006). The rate of adoption is slower in academic and official research but it is far from negligible. These technological innovations have, however, created several new methodological challenges.
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Survey research can be performed using different modes like paper-and-pencil, mail or Internet surveys. Two characteristics of these modes (Groves et al., 2004) highlight the impact of modern technology on survey research: The presence of information technology during data collection and the degree of the interviewer’s involvement.

Computer-assisted survey information collection (“CASIC”) is a term embracing various modes that rely on computer technology for data collection (Couper & Nicholls, 1998). Computerized questionnaires offer numerous advantages. Answers are entered directly into a computer, which eliminates transcription-related errors. Enhanced possibilities of standardization ensure higher data quality and a lower burden on respondents. For example, answers can be limited to predefined options, irrelevant questions are automatically skipped over, answers can be subjected to real-time control and so forth.

Some computerized modes require an interviewer to be present either physically or remotely (e.g., CATI). In others, respondents complete a questionnaire by themselves. Self-administration offers benefits to respondents and researchers. Respondents can complete a questionnaire at the time and place of their preference and might have an increased sense of privacy. Researchers benefit especially from the absence of interviewers which prevents interviewer-related biases and significantly lowers research costs.

The widespread computer technology allowed both aspects to merge into computerized self-administered questionnaires (“CSAQ”). The trend toward paperless (computerized) and interviewer-less (self-administered) surveying corresponds with the general cost-optimization efforts of the research industry. Figure 1 summarizes the most important survey modes based on CSAQ. They rely on electronic networks which make data instantly available to a research organization (Nathan, 2001).

Figure 1.

Common survey modes based on computerized self-administered questionnaires


Information technology has introduced new input and output technologies. Questions can be presented not only textually but also as audio or video clips. Answers, on the other hand, can be provided and recorded either manually (e.g., using a keyboard) or automatically with speech recognition. Even more advanced technologies that recognize gestures, writing and touch are establishing new potential for surveying respondents with certain disabilities (Johnston, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computerized Self-Administered Questionnaires (CSAQ): Survey modes implemented with computerized questionnaires that are completed by respondents themselves (without an interviewer). CSAQ modes include Internet surveys, interactive voice response, touch-tone data entry and others.

Mixed-Mode Survey: A survey based on a combination of different modes at various stages of a survey project. This helps to overcome the limitations of an individual mode. For example, respondents without Internet access can be offered the opportunity to complete a paper questionnaire instead of a Web one. Modern technology enables the advanced centralized data management of mixed-mode surveys.

Virtual Interviewer: A computerized survey mode in which questions are presented to respondents by a virtual interviewer. This is usually a prerecorded video clip of a real person asking questions. It can be provided via different media, including the Internet. The future development and integration of information technologies may enable completely virtualized characters with an adaptable appearance for different surveying contexts.

Mobile Computerized Self-Administered Questionnaires (MCSAQ): Computerized questionnaires completed by respondents using mobile devices, usually mobile phones. Common examples are the very limited SMS surveys and the more powerful mobile Internet surveys.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR): A telephone survey mode based on prerecorded questions or text-to-speech technology and technology for voice recognition. Answers provided by respondents are automatically recognized and stored in a database. A modern IVR system can incorporate advanced speech recognition, enabling the automatic textual recording of complex answers.

Internet Surveys: computerized self-administered survey modes with questionnaires distributed and answered using one or more Internet services. The prevailing type is Web surveys, which has almost completely replaced e-mail surveys. Internet surveys can be distributed across various devices, including personal computers, mobile devices and interactive TV.

Web Survey: An Internet survey mode with questionnaires administered on the World Wide Web. Respondents access and answer the questionnaire using a Web browser. Modern Web technologies enable the client-side execution of advanced questionnaire features, including real-time skips over questions, the control of answers and others. Images and multimedia elements can also be included to enhance the contents of a questionnaire.

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