Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

A Primer on Web Surveys

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

A Primer on Web Surveys

Article excerpt

With the advancement of computers and access to the Internet, surveys using the web are becoming increasingly popular. Such surveys save money by eliminating postage costs and save time by providing immediate access to returned surveys and improved data processing. This primer describes some considerations and suggestions related to the use of web surveys. In addition to issues of sampling error, question writing, and question sequencing, successful use of web surveys requires determining if a web survey is appropriate, determining the desired level of security and confidentiality, selecting design options that enhance the survey, conducting rigorous pilot testing, and implementing strategies to maximize response rate. J Allied Health 2008; 37:180-186.

SURVEY RESEARCH is a frequently used methodology. With the advancement of computer hardware, software, and increasing access to the Internet,1 survey implementation using the World Wide Web (web) is becoming increasingly popular.2 After the necessary hardware and software is acquired, a web survey saves money3 by eliminating postage costs and saves time3 because the survey is immediately available to respondents after it is posted to the Internet and returned surveys are immediately available to the investigators. Additional time savings are realized because data processing is faster with web surveys.

While web surveys offer several advantages, they are not appropriate for every situation. Web surveys add a layer of technology not present in traditional paper surveys and have unique considerations related to design, pilot testing, and response rate. The purposes of this primer are to describe questions to consider when deciding if a web survey is appropriate, issues related to security and confidentiality, and the unique considerations related to design, pilot testing, and response rate inherent in web surveys. Issues related to sampling error, question writing, and question sequencing are beyond the scope of this report; publications addressing these issues are available.4-8

Determining if a Web Survey Is Appropriate

To determine if a web survey is appropriate, the investigators must first answer these questions: "Will the potential respondents have adequate Internet access?" and "Are the potential respondents computer literater2 In 2003, approximately 54% of United States households had Internet access.9 Access was not consistent across groups of people. For example, individuals with lower incomes, individuals with less education, and individuals with disabilities may have less home Internet access.10 In contrast, groups of people such as individuals in business, faculty members, and college students typically have access to the Internet.4

Knowing the potential respondents are likely to have Internet access does not address the adequacy of their access. Because some web survey design elements such as graphics increase download times,11 potential respondents with slower Internet service (i.e., dial-up modems) may become frustrated when attempting to complete a web survey. While broadband Internet service is faster and mitigates concern about download times, access to broadband Internet service is not consistent across the United States. In 2003, approximately 20% of households had broadband access, with less penetration of broadband in rural as compared with urban areas.12 Although limited to one state, a more recent example highlights the continued disparity in Internet access between urban and rural areas. In communities with < 15,000 households, wireline broadband access was 61% compared with 93% in three cities in Missouri (St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield).13

If potential respondents do have adequate Internet access, then the second question is "Are the potential respondents computer literate?"2 Computer literacy requires computer skills to access and navigate through the web survey.14 Knowledge of how to use computers, access Internet web sites, and complete web surveys will vary across people. …

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