Research Basics: Choosing a Data-Gathering Technique and Crafting Questionnaires. (Foundation Findings)

By Reagan, Joey | Communication World, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Research Basics: Choosing a Data-Gathering Technique and Crafting Questionnaires. (Foundation Findings)


Reagan, Joey, Communication World


The proper protocol for conducting a research study is the subject of "Communication Research Primer: Measuring and Evaluating Organizational Communication." Divided into 21 chapters, the book, commissioned by the IABC Research Foundation and sponsored by Deveney Communication, walks readers through a research project from beginning to end, including defining the problem, determining if research is necessary, developing a questionnaire, selecting a sample, analyzing the results and reporting the findings. The following excerpt explains two precursors to a project's success: choosing a data-gathering technique and crafting a questionnaire.

GATHERING DATA

Choose your data-gathering technique based on the project's needs. Such techniques include in-person interviews, questionnaires sent via regular mail, phone interviews or use of the Internet. Keep in mind that different cultures and subcultures respond differently to various techniques, and that you should not limit yourself to one technique if combining two or three methods provides optimal results.

In-person interviews. Researchers who conduct in-person interviews can benefit by:

* Receiving high contact and response rates

* Conducting long, in-depth interviews

* Supplementing participants' responses with observations of them

* Allowing respondents a chance to interact with stimuli (e.g., pictures, products)

At the same time, in-person interviews have their disadvantages. Such interviews:

* Can take weeks to complete

* Are expensive (US$20 to $50-plus per interview)

* Fail to contact gated communities

* Can be skewed by possible interviewer bias through expressions, comments, etc.

Mail. Like in-person interviews, questionnaires sent via regular mail provide participants the chance to submit thoughtful responses, since they have time to look up information and reflect before responding, plus there is a high contact rate. Mailing out questionnaires is effective for surveying homogeneous groups, and there is relatively low cost involved with surveying a wide geographic area.

This technique should not be used for general population studies, however. Some people cannot read or write well, so their responses can be unclear or skewed by misinterpretation of the question. Also, mailing questionnaires offers low return rates and can take weeks to complete. Hence, a company should entice potential participants by providing:

* An immediate prize (e.g., a small gift sticker, etc., included with questionnaire)

* A future prize (e.g., collectible gift, stamp, etc., sent after participants return questionnaires)

* A chance to win something (e.g., entering name in raffle drawing)

Additionally, the company should explain the value of the study and send a letter before the study announcing it and a reminder after potential participants receive the questionnaire with a set deadline.

Phone. While mailing questionnaires works when targeting a homogeneous group, a phone interview is the most popular method for researching general populations. This method boasts a good response rate, is effective in reaching most people and is quick and inexpensive.

However, phone interviews are typically limited to 8 to 10 minutes, which demands that participants give short, top-of-mind responses. Phone interviews also limit whom you contact, since most people have answering machines or caller ID, or they mistake a researcher for a telemarketer.

Database generators. For a more accurate depiction of continuing behavior, you may want to merge existing information the company has about its customers' lifestyles with information obtained by tracking how often they use checks, credit cards, discount cards, etc.

Likewise, employee databases provide a way to assess productivity by tracking their sales volume and expenses, for instance. …

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