Survey Research in Marr2iage
and Family Therapy
THORANA S. NELSON
DAVID D. ALLRED
“Survey,” as a verb, means “to examine, inspect or consider carefully” (Guralnik, 1966, p. 749). As a noun, a survey is a “general study: as a survey of public opinion” (Guralnik, 1966, p. 749). McGraw and Watson (1976) define “survey research” as “a method of collecting standardized information by interviewing a sample representative of some population” (p. 343). Survey research “studies large and small populations by selecting and studying samples chosen from the population to discover the relative incidence, distribution, and interrelations of sociological and psychological variables” (Kerlinger, 1986, p. 378). Warwick and Lininger (1975) describe survey research as a “method of collecting information about a human population in which direct contact is made with the units of the study (individuals, organizations, communities, etc.) through such systematic means as questionnaires and interview schedules” (p. 2). Common terms that emerge in definitions of survey research are “sample,” “information,” “questionnaire” or “interview schedule,” and (for our purposes) “sociological variables” and “psychological variables.” The sample is the who of the study, the variables are the what, and the questionnaire is the how. Survey research, then, is a method of collecting data from or about a group of people and asking questions in some fashion about things of interest to the researcher for the purpose of generalizing to a population represented by the group or sample.
Broadly, a sample is a part selected to represent a larger whole (Warwick & Lininger, 1975). The “sampling frame” is the set of people who have a chance of being selected (Fowler, 2002). The variables are the concepts or information in which the researcher is interested. A questionnaire or interview schedule is a series of questions presented to the sample in person by an interviewer, over the telephone, through a selfadministered mailed paper-and-pencil instrument, through the Internet, or in some other way. The data analyses and reports are then used to describe the group or to