Online Survey Programs

Online survey programs have extended the capabilities of social scientists to conduct research. The Public Policy Center has used several online survey programs in the past and has utilized SoGoSurvey successfully for the past 12 months.

The basic functionalities of most online applications are available for free (e.g., SoGoSurvey, SurveyMonkey, QuestionPro), with expanded capabilities available for a fee. Users can build surveys easily using these programs, often with more complicated structures like conditional branching. Administration is simple, as users can send the survey to specific e-mails or provide participants with either a general or specific link. Links can be assigned that allow only one-time access to the survey for data quality and confidentiality concerns. Data can also be easily downloaded into Excel or SPSS for analysis. These types of comprehensive features generally require a paid subscription, which can run anywhere from $9.99 to $99.00 per month depending on the number and type of features.

One of the main benefits to using electronic surveys is that the marginal cost of survey research decreases to essentially zero when these tools are utilized. That is, a large number of surveys can be programmed and administered with one subscription. Another benefit is that most of the online survey software allows viewing on multiple platforms (e.g. computer, tablet, cellphone).

Electronic surveys are not appropriate for all situations, however. For instance, community surveys administered to random samples of households are better served by mail- or phone-based surveys. Furthermore, some members of a study population may not have access to technology, or they may not prefer to answer electronically. The PPC experienced the latter challenge while conducting an alumni survey of UMass electrical and computer engineers. You might think that presumably tech-savvy engineering alumni would prefer completing an online survey, yet in our study about a third of respondents still preferred to complete a paper survey. The lesson is that there is more than one way to get the job done, and in these days of declining survey response rates, multi-mode survey administration (e.g., on-line combined with mail or telephone) may be necessary to achieve representative samples.