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Survey Research Tools

The tools you use to create your survey will depend first on whether you are conducting a paper and pencil survey or an electronic survey. Many of the suggestions offered in "Best Practices, Tips, and FAQ's" apply both to paper and to electronic survey. The underlying goal with either format is always to make it as easy as possible for the recipient to respond to your questions.

Paper and Pencil Surveys

While there are software packages available to help with the formatting of a paper survey, any good word processing package, such as Word, can be used. A paper survey can be mailed (in which case a return envelope should be provided) or handed out to the target population.

The use of a paper survey in combination with a "captured audience" can be very effective in achieving a high response rate. A captured audience is when your target population is gathered together either specifically for the purpose of responding to the survey, or for another purpose, with time alotted for survey completion. The survey is given to them, they complete it, and hand it back. For example, first year students waiting in line to register during orientation is a captured audience.

One approach to combining a paper survey with an electronic format is to email the individuals in the target population with a survey document as an attachment, or (if it is very short) to embed the survey items directly in the email. This exploits the convenience of technology for the delivery of the survey (and possibly its return), but does not allow for the responses to be entered directly into a database. Someone must still receive the surveys and code the responses for analysis.

If you use this approach you must make it clear how you want the recipients to respond. Do you want them to print the instrument, write on it, and send it back? (This would be a good way to maintain anomymity.) Do you want them to open the document (or reply to the email), entering their responses, and returning it electronically? Is the choice theirs? Be clear about this, and also realize that you are placing a burden on the respondent to print the survey and put it in an envelope, or to open a document and then re-save it with their responses edited in, attach it to an email and send it back to you.

Here are a few vendors of paper survey design software: (The software listed below is included only because of popularity — we do not support or endorse any one over another.)

  • Any word-processing software.
  • mrPaper — mrPaper is an SPSS software package for creating and formatting paper questionnaires. You will need to contact SPSS for current pricing.

Software also exists to create scannable paper surveys, but that assumes that you have the capability to scan the completed surveys! Additional scanning equipment and software would also need to be purchased, since it is not currently available in IT.

Electronic Surveys

There has been a proliferation of software for designing electronic and Web-based surveys. Typically with this kind of survey an email is sent to members of the target population with a link to the survey instrument. There are several advantages of this approach, including convenience for the surveyor and for the respondents, and the fact that the responses are held in a file so that they do not need to be entered in a separate step, thus reducing errors and saving time. (If there is a file provided — depends on the vendor — the structure and how easy it is to use can vary greatly across tools.) Some of the disadvantages are the potential loss of email invitations in spam folders, and the increasing reluctance of individuals to enter personal information on-line.

Here are a few vendors for electronic surveys: (The software listed below is included only because of popularity — we do not support or endorse any one over another.)

  • Google Forms - Google Forms can be very effective for simple surveys, and now that Swarthmore has "Gone Google," have the added benefit of integrating with other Google tools.
  • Qualtrics — ITS maintains a site license for Qualtrics, a full featured on-line survey tool. Qualtrics is supported by most of the top colleges and universities in the country. It offers a simple, easy to understand interface, along with the power and flexibility of the best online survey tools. Contact ITS for more information.
  • Moodle — Moodle has some limited survey capabilities. Faculty and Staff should contact their appropriate ITS representative with questions. Except for student leaders of Moodle organizations, students are not generally permitted to use Moodle for this purpose.
  • Survey Monkey — Survey Monkey is a Web-based vendor offering a basic subscription that is free, but limits the user to a total of 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. More comprehensive options are available at varying costs. A "Professional Subscription" at $19.95/month offers greater features and flexibility with the only limitation being 1000 responses per month.
  • Zoomerang — Also Web-based, Zoomerang has a basic, limited-use option which is free. It allows users to create and send surveys and view a limited number of survey responses per survey online for 10 days after the survey is launched. You would not receive a datafile, but would be able to view some response summaries. More comprehensive options begin at $350.