Academicians often find a need to conduct surveys as a means to gather data whether it is for a research study or a program assessment. With today's computer technology, mail surveys have become, for the most part, a thing of the past. Internet surveys have grown in popularity due to perceived lower costs and time savings. Development tools such as Student Voice and Survey Monkey make developing and administering online surveys relatively easy for faculty. While many see the positive aspects of conducting online surveys, there are also some potential drawbacks.

Electronic Survey Design

A good survey study begins with the proper design and layout of the survey instrument. Survey instruments that are cumbersome, time consuming, and confusing are often met with low response rates and invalid results. The first rule of thumb for a survey is to only ask questions that pertain to the research questions at hand. Clearly defined research hypotheses matched with appropriate statistical techniques provide the researcher with a blueprint for the survey instrument. Asking unnecessary questions and collecting data that will not be useful to the researcher increases the time required by the respondents to complete the survey and as a result may decrease response rates.

The three main parts of an electronic survey are the introduction, the survey items, and the thank you section. The introduction to the survey should inform the potential respondent about the purpose of the survey, how they were selected, anonymity and confidentiality issues, researcher contact information, anticipated length of time to complete the survey, the survey due date, and other pertinent Institutional Review Board information. The second section of the survey contains the actual survey items. It is generally recommended that the survey items flow from demographic information to research content items. Utilizing fixed format items such as rating scales and check boxes aid the researcher in data analysis. Open ended items can be very useful in obtaining unique data and can be later recoded by the researcher into formats that lend themselves better to analytical data analysis. The third major section of the electronic survey is the "thank you" section. In this section, the researcher thanks the respondent for their time and allows the respondent if they choose to receive the results of the study they participated in.

Benefits of Electronic Surveys

Research indicates there is a wide spectrum of perceived benefits to the use of electronic surveys. Three of the most common benefits are faster survey processing times, improved validity, and lower costs. The survey process is sped up considerably because the respondent keys in the data, which is fed straight to the researcher for immediate analysis. The time lag experienced due to mailing the survey instrument out and returning it is also reduced considerably. Electronic surveys can be automatically validated through the survey computer program. If data value is entered in an incorrect format, or outside a defined range, the web-based program can return an error message requesting the respondent to enter the data correctly and resubmit the questionnaire.

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