(Trochim) Research Methods Knowledge Base [Mary Estelle]

(Trochim) Research Methods Knowledge Base: Read the section on Surveys and all its subsections (i.e., Plus & Minus of Survey Methods,… Constructing the Survey)


Activity: Take a Survey



Types of Surveys


  • Mail Survey
  • Electronic Survey
  • Group Administered questionnaire
  • Household drop-off


  • Personal interview
  • Telephone interview

Selecting the Survey Method

Population Issues

  • Can the population be enumerated?
  • Are there language issues?
  • Will the population cooperate?
  • What are the geographic restrictions?
  • Is the population literate?

Sampling Issues

  • What data is available?
  • Can respondents be found?
  • Who is the respondent?
  • Can all members of population be sampled?
  • Are response rates likely to be a problem?

Question Issues

  • What types of questions can be asked?
  • How complex will the questions be?
  • Will screening questions be needed?
  • Can question sequence be controlled?
  • Will lengthy questions be asked?
  • Will long response scales be used?

Content Issues

  • Can the respondents be expected to know about the issue?
  • Will respondent need to consult records?

Bias Issues

  • Can social desirability be avoided?
  • Can interviewer distortion and subversion be controlled?
  • Can false respondents be avoided?

Administrative Issues

  • costs
  • facilities
  • time
  • personnel

Constructing the Survey

Constructing a survey instrument is an art in itself. There are numerous small decisions that must be made — about content, wording, format, placement — that can have important consequences for your entire study.

  • determining the question content, scope and purpose
  • choosing the response format that you use for collecting information from the respondent
  • figuring out how to word the question to get at the issue of interest

Types Of Structured Questions

  • Dichotomous Questions
    • Nominal Questions
    • Ordinal Questions
    • Interval Questions
      • Likert response scale
      • Sematic differential
  • Cumulative of Guttman Scale
  • Filter or Contingency Questions

Question Content

  • Is the Question Necessary/Useful?
  • Are Several Questions Needed?
    • Is the questions double-barreled?
    • Does is cover all possibilities?
    • Does it provide enough context?
    • Do Respondents Have the Needed Information?
    • Is the question the correct level of specificity?
    • Is Question Sufficiently General?
    • Is Question Biased or Loaded?
    • Will Respondent Answer Truthfully?

Question Wording

  • Can the Question be Misunderstood?
  • What Assumptions Does the Question Make?
  • Is the time frame specified?
  •  How personal is the wording?
  •  Is the wording too direct?
  • Does the question contain difficult or unclear terminology?
  • Does the question make each alternative explicit?
  • Is the wording objectionable?
  • Is the wording loaded or slanted?


Interviews are can be challenging to conduct and rewarding to a study. The process requires skills and preparation that impact the results and usefulness of the interview results for analysis.


Preparation of Interviewers

Define the Role of the Interviewer

  • Locate and enlist cooperation of respondents
  • Motivate respondents to do good job
  • Clarify any confusion/concerns
  • Observe quality of responses
  • Conduct a good interview
  • Calibrate interview protocols

The Interview

Each interview is unique, work on their own pace, and have been likened to a kind of art. There are common components listed and explained below:

Opening Remarks

  • Gaining entry- Interviewers often have difficulty gaining access to those they want to interview. The best approach is to be professional, honest, and non-threatening.
  •  Introduction & Explain the study- The interviewer needs to be prepared with a short (20-30 second) explanation of the study to introduce the purpose of the interview.

Asking the Questions

  • Use the questionnaire carefully, but informally- the questionnaire for the interview is the interviewer’s road map. Use it to guide the conversation.
  • Ask questions exactly as written- Each respondent must to be asked the same questions to maintain consistency between interviews.
  • Follow the order given & ask every question- Do not skip sections because the respondent starts talking about it, the interviewer must cover all of the questions.
  • Don’t finish sentences- Allow the respondent to clarify what they are saying in their own words, the interviewer may alter or misinterpret what is being said in an effort to help.

Obtaining Adequate Responses

  • Silent probe- Silence can effectively elicit elaboration from the respondent.
  • Overt encouragement- Encourage the respondent as they answer.
  • Elaboration & Clarification- It is appropriate to ask questions like “Would you like to elaborate on that?” or “Is there anything else you would like to add?” or “Could you tell me more about that?”
  • Repetition- Repeating what the respondent has said can elicit new information without leading the conversation.

Recording the Response

  • Record responses immediately- pieces of the interview may not seem important at the time, but may be extremely important in analysis.
  • Include all probes- you need to include all of the probes the interviewer uses for analysis.
  • Use abbreviations where possible

Concluding the Interview

  • Thank the respondent
  • Tell them when you expect to send results
  • Don’t be brusque or hasty
  • Immediately after leaving — write down any notes about how the interview went


General overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the major different survey types









Are Visual Presentations Possible? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Are Long Response Categories Possible? Yes Yes Yes ??? No
Is Privacy A Feature? No Yes No Yes ???
Is the Method Flexible? No No No Yes Yes
Are Open-ended Questions Feasible? No No No Yes Yes
Is Reading & Writing Needed? ??? Yes Yes No No
Can You Judge Quality of Response? Yes No ??? Yes ???
Are High Response Rates Likely? Yes No Yes Yes No
Can You Explain Study in Person? Yes No Yes Yes ???
Is It Low Cost? Yes Yes No No No
Are Staff & Facilities Needs Low? Yes Yes No No No
Does It Give Access to Dispersed Samples? No Yes No No No
Does Respondent Have Time to Formulate Answers? No Yes Yes No No
Is There Personal Contact? Yes No Yes Yes No
Is A Long Survey Feasible? No No No Yes No
Is There Quick Turnaround? No Yes No No Yes

One thought on “(Trochim) Research Methods Knowledge Base [Mary Estelle]

  1. Something I really like about this section is that it addresses the “real world” part of qualitative research. It concerns me that skills required to adapt to a particular group/individual or knowing when it is appropriate (or even desirable) to deviate from the established script rely more on intuition than anything else. Above, this is referred to as “Obtaining Adequate Responses,” and beneath it are techniques such as the silent probe, overt encouragement, and elaboration & clarification. My question to the class is: how do we know that obtaining adequate responses isn’t simply having a participant embellish or exaggerate for the purpose of satisfying the researcher? What if the participant has exhausted their descriptive powers, and the researcher is prompting the participants for some amount of artistic license?

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