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Interviews & Surveys

Determine your survey design by creating questions with your purpose and audience in mind.

To develop a credible survey, you must first organize a systematic approach to your study. This involves insuring your study sample actually represents the population of interest. For example, if you were conducting a survey of whether or not college students ever plagiarized or cheated on a test, you would not want to submit your survey to teachers or parents; you would want to hear from college students. A well-designed survey will reduce the chances of this type of misuse of the data.

Become an effective listener and interviewer. Interview authorities, conduct slice-of-life stories, and author oral histories.

Follow the strategies below to make the interview environment conducive to self-expression. Clarify your purpose for the interview and devise appropriate questions to solicit the desired information. Finally, maintain sufficient flexibility so you can respond to new issues as they develop during the interviewYou informally interview people on a daily basis. Asking your friends and people you meet about their ideas and day-to-day experiences has sensitized you to how people respond to questions—sometimes opening up, sometimes clamming up. And while you should naturally rely on your innate people skills, as a researcher you also need to develop a strategy to ensure that you get the information you need to write your report.

Learn to write effective survey questions.

After defining the population, surveyors need to create an instrument if a proven survey instrument does not exist. As discussed in more detail below, survey creation parallels the computer axiom "GIGO"--Garbage In—Garbage Out. A well-designed, accurate survey is an excellent way for researchers to gather information or data about a particular subject of interest. When prepared in an unprofessional manner, surveys can also become an inaccurate, misused, misunderstood conveyer of misinformation.

Understand common interview types.

The design of your interview is determined by your goal. Below is an overview of common interview formats.

Writers conduct interviews for many reasons. Interviews can play a role in helping you develop all of the projects presented in this book. Researchers employ interviews to achieve multiple purposes:

  • Oral histories; interview people who can tell stories about life in the past.
  • Expert testimonies; interview experts, such as famous inventors, entrepreneurs, political leaders, or trend-setters

Informed Consent | Behavior of a Field Researcher

The ethics of field research are more complicated than library or Internet research. If your primary modes of data collection are observing, interacting, interpreting, and talking to people, you must carefully consider your actions. It is unethical to see people as subjects of research to further only your own interests. If you are conducting research on a college campus with hopes of making your work public, you must review your school's Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines.

Understand the basics of census and random sampling techniques.

A critical step in survey research involves sampling the population. Now that you have narrowed your objectives to something achievable, who are you going to sample? For many, this is a rather simple step: Ask the people who are able to answer your questions! If you want to learn about the educational perceptions of 20-year-olds, ask them. If you want to learn about the parental perceptions of the education of 20-year-olds, ask the parents.

Learn how to manage the interview successfully.

Since the interviewee is kind enough to set some time aside to meet with you, you in turn need to be flexible about where and for how long you meet and whether or not it is acceptable for you to tape-record the session. In general, you should try to conduct the interview away from as many distractions as possible. Establishing a climate of trust and support is difficult when the interviewee is bombarded with the daily distractions of professional life—such as phone calls, piles of messages, and pages of "to do" lists.

Develop effective interview questions.

Ask Open, Closed, Hypothetical, and Mirror Questions

The questions you will ask are determined by the purpose of your research. As a result, be very clear in your own mind about what you hope to discover as a result of conducting the interview. The best way to develop solid questions is to freewrite as many as possible. By refining the purpose of your research and by sharing your questions with other people, you will be able to identify the ones that are most apt to uncover the information you need.

Learn the techniques to get as many responses as possible to your survey.

For the mailed survey there are several tactics you can employ to increase the response rate. Write a letter of transmittal stating the purpose and importance of the study, the reason why the individual was selected to participate, insurance of confidentiality, and an offer of thanks for the individual's participation. If a separate letter is not appropriate, then consider a survey coversheet that contains similar information. Another technique is to send out a mailing informing intended participants that a questionnaire is forthcoming. Advance notification informing individuals they have been selected for your survey may also spark supportive interest.

Develop knowledge that is otherwise unavailable by developing an effective survey.

Surveys are a series of questions, which are usually presented in questionnaire format. Surveys can be distributed face-to-face, over the phone, or over the Internet.

Developing, Designing, and Distributing Surveys

Surveys are usually developed to obtain information that is otherwise unavailable.