Polling the Nations, 1986-1998

By Roberts, Randall | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Polling the Nations, 1986-1998


Roberts, Randall, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Bethesda, Md.: ORS Publishing, 1998. Multiple distributors: ORS CD-ROM, $495/yr. (ISBN 913577-79-0); ORS Online, $495/yr.; SilverPlatter, $600/yr. Network licenses are available. CD-ROM versions updated quarterly, www.orspub.com.

Polling the Nations, published by Opinion Research Service (ORS), provides electronic access to primary survey data for researchers attempting to measure the pulse of the public--locally, nationally, or even internationally. The print predecessor to Polling the Nations is the American Public Opinion Index and its companion microfiche set, American Public Opinion Data (ORS, 1999).

The print product was introduced in 1981 and covers, as the title suggests, survey data for the United States. It provides extremely limited subject access to its rich collection of polling data. Moreover, it is awkward and time consuming to use, requiring the perusal of one and sometimes two volumes of American Opinion Index followed by a visit to the microfiche set.

With Polling the Nations, ORS and its companion distributor SilverPlatter offer three electronic alternatives to the print product. All three electronic versions are unequivocally superior to the print product. Polling the Nations not only offers the considerable advantages of electronic indexing, searching and digital record output, but it also offers expanded coverage that includes seventy additional countries.

Though the content of the electronic products is not identical, all three versions include data from over 12,000 surveys produced by more than 450 polling organizations. The polling organizations represent a diverse range of expertise in public opinion research. Most of the organizations are highly regarded for their research in this area. Some are not. However, the source of each question is documented and the identity of the source of the data is always included.

Polling the Nations includes the following information for each question: text of question asked to respondent, source of survey, date survey published, summary response data, name of polling/survey organization with address and phone number, survey method (e.g., telephone), sample size, universe of respondents (e.g., postal workers in the United States), copyright holder, and a notes field to provide any special information about the survey or the respondents.

In Polling the Nations nearly all of the aforementioned information is searchable, but each version takes a very different approach to searching and displaying this data. That is, the "look" or interface and the performance capabilities of each product vary considerably, and that is the substance of the remainder of this review. The products will be compared on the basis of their general interface and their search and record output capabilities.

In the context of this article, "general interface" entails all those screen design features that facilitate use of the database, i.e., features that allow the user to create searches, navigate screens, and output results. For example, this will often include such characteristics as menu options, buttons, directions, labels, data entry boxes, and use of color, space, fonts ,and separators. The Help module also is considered part of the interface. It should be readily and always accessible but unobtrusive. It should compensate for any shortcomings in the interface, and it should serve as an educational resource to allow the user to discover and learn how to use features of the database.

The online version of Polling the Nations has what appears to be the simplest of the three interfaces [figure 1 omitted]. The search screen offers six clearly labeled boxes for data entry, and except for the obvious search button, there are no additional buttons or options. There is no additional text, and the screen is totally free of clutter.

Unfortunately, a simple interface is not always an effective one. This interface has a few serious, but easily correctable, design flaws that can significantly impede effective searching, particularly for beginning searchers. …

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