Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Determine if Your Study Should be Conducted Online

The target audience for a survey is an important consideration in deciding whether it should be conducted online.  The target audience must have access and preferably use the Internet on a regular basis.  Until recently, senior citizens were generally not good candidates for online surveys because they were not as familiar with the Internet as younger groups.  Young children that are not yet able to read and type so they would not be good candidates for online surveys because they would need to be coached through the questionnaire.  When conducting business-to-business research, executive-level respondents may be difficult to recruit via email.  Therefore a phone survey may be recommended for certain audiences.

Online surveys were initially conducted among technology workers because they were the first to have a large portion of their population with access to the Internet.  Many companies were hestitant to use online research until recently because it was believed that not a large enough proportion of populations under investigation would be connected to the Internet.  As long as the target population is connected, it is safe to say that an online survey can be conducted and in most cases, is the most cost effective, time efficient way to go.

In research, answers are rarely black and white.  Because research is not a perfect science, answers are typically found through evaluting the different requirements, the pros and cons of an approach, objectively thinking about the impact on the business and research outcomes.  In most cases, it is quite simple to determine if a study should be conducted online, but with certain research areas, it may be more difficult to determine the proper method.

Business needs are the most important consideration when undertaking market research.  The business need drives the request for proposals and defines what type of research is to be conducted, whether it is exploratory, qualitative or quantitative in nature.  Once the business information needs have been defined, then study design can be established.

It is important to always adhere to strict ethical research principles when implementing a study.  This is one reason it is generally recommended to use a third party to conduct a market research survey.  The business needs can sometimes cloud the objectives at hand and a survey can be designed that leads respondents to specific answers.  A professional market researcher should always have the ability to push back if the business need impedes on ethical research design.  The Council of American Survey Research Organization (CASRO) rules outline standards of ethical conduct for the industry.  This information can be found at www.casro.org/codeofstandards.cfm.

It is important to understand the research implications of the survey design regardless of whether the survey is for an Internet or a telephone audience.  A sound methodology ensures that research principles are adhered to in order to report objectives and correct data.  The length of a survey and the impact on customer survey fatigue is one example of what must be taken into account.  The researcher wants to always ensure that the questions can be displayed in a manner that can easily be understood by the respondent.  Evaluating the potential affects alongside technology, administration and business needs will help determine whether a phone or Internet survey should be conducted and will help guide how certain questions are asked.

Technology has improved the quality, speed and efficiency of Internet surveys.  It is important that the programming rules for a study not be overly complex.  Single response, multiple response, scale, open-ended response or even grid questions are the most common types of questions seen in a survey.  Branching rules to skip questions based on respondent qualifications, substituting values into specific questions or answer, or auto-populating variables should all be standard features in a research tool.

Online research studies are almost always inherently cheaper than mail or telephone studies.  It is still important to factor in the cost of the research tool, the time saved doing the study in-house versus outsourcing, any extraneous costs such as language translations, or sample acquisition costs.  One important cost element is that some Internet survey tools have built-in processes that are not always the easiest to administer.  Outsourcing in any type of market research can not only give you piece of mind that your project is being handled by professionals, but that you will also get the best representative sample available.

About the Author: Michael Holmes is the President of EMI Online Research Solutions, an online research panel company with over 80 panels from 80 different countries.
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