Summary of Singleton(2010), Survey Research

This chapter is basic guideline about how to design survey research which is the most widely used method of collecting data in the social sciences (Bradburn and Sudman, 1988). According to this chapter, survey offers the most effective means of social description, but it is less confidence in causal inference compared to the experimental research. That is, while experimental research is good at eliminating plausible rival explanations through randomization and other control procedure, survey must first anticipate and measure relevant extraneous variables and then, exercise statistical control over these variables in the data analysis. However, in social science research, since to manipulate the situation as required by experiment designs is limited, the observational study with survey is more commonly used and feasible than the experimental study. Therefore, to enhance the precision of inferring cause-and-effect relationships and remove bias, designing and doing survey could be one of the biggest challenges for the social science researcher.

Singleton offers three broad steps in doing surveys: (1) planning, (2) field administration, and (3) data processing and analysis, and this chapter is focused on planning and field administration. Planning a survey is consist of several key decision points such as formulating research objectives, selecting unit of analysis and variables, developing sampling plan, and constructing instrument, and these decision points require the simultaneous consideration rather than a linear series of decisions. In planning a survey, the main concern of researchers is minimizing four types of errors that threaten the accuracy of survey results: (1) coverage error, (2) sampling error, (3) non-response error, (4) measurement error, especially the coverage error and non-response error. The various survey modes such as face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews and computer-assisted self-interviews have its own advantages and disadvantages in dealing with errors. To offset the weakness of one mode by the strengths of another mode, sometimes mixed-mode survey is suggested as an alternative combining the various survey modes sequentially and concurrently. Even though the mixed-mode is good at reducing the non-response rate and research cost, we should be careful to use it because of its uncertain comparability of respondents collected by different modes. There is no perfect way in selecting the survey mode, but this chapter suggests us a guideline how to find out a best way to plan a survey design depending on the research objective. And this guideline is adopted as criteria to find a secondary data resource as well.

Once the planning is completed, the next step is field work. Survey’s fieldwork phase is illustrated as the flow of interviewer selection and training, gaining access to respondents, interviewing and follow-up efforts. To establish the reliable survey data, it is very important to select experienced and qualified interviewers, and it should be considered as a criterion to choose a secondary data resource. Depending on the skills of interviewers, the level of precision and bias of the data could vary considerably, and the researcher should be careful of employing interviewers, training and controlling them even though it accompanies high cost.

Leave a Reply

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.