Portions of the following are excerpted from Web Survey Methodology by Mario Callegaro, Katja Lozar Manfreda and Vasja Vehovar (2015). London: Sage.
Web surveys appeared soon after the Web was launched, at the beginning of the 1990s, and today they are the prevailing mode of survey data collection. With them, it has become very easy to create a survey, almost as simple as writing and sending an email. Correspondingly, sometimes it appears that basic computer literacy is not only the required but also the sufficient skill for conducting a web survey.
However, conducting web surveys raises numerous practical and conceptual questions:
- Is a web survey suitable for my research problem?
- How do I recruit respondents from the general population?
- Can I generalize the obtained results if survey participants come from online social media?
- How many people can I expect to answer my survey?
- Which strategy will assure enough cooperation?
- How much time can a web questionnaire take?
- Should respondents be forced to answer every question?
- How do I select the right web survey software?
- How do I adapt to respondents answering from a smartphone?
There are hundreds of questions like these and competent responses require the understanding of many issues, from changing technologies to various methodological specifics. Very often, there are no simple answers. Common sense alone is not enough for many of these situations. A recipe book would not suffice either because there are too many issues, or they are often too complex. Instead, knowledge and broader understanding of the subject matter are needed to provide the right orientation and the proper grounds for developing methodologically sound solutions, which then effectively respond to specific web survey circumstances with corresponding creativity. Providing such knowledge and understanding is the very aim of this book.
The book presents a dedicated treatment of web survey methodology, bringing evidence-based and comprehensive insight into all aspects of the web survey process.
The book starts with introductory definitions and a conceptual outline of the web survey process. The three core chapters follow, which address the essential steps of the web survey process. Chapter 2 provides a systematic overview of web survey preparations, ranging from mode elaboration, sampling and questionnaire preparation to technical issues, nonresponse strategy, and general management. Chapter 3 discusses actual data collection, which includes recruitment, measurement and corresponding support for fieldwork processing and monitoring. Chapter 4 reviews activities which follow after the data are collected: namely, data preparation, preliminary reporting, and data exporting and archiving. These three chapters, together with the introductory one, provide an essential conceptualization of the subject, important structuring of the related processes and clarification of the terminology. We believe that these chapters are the main added value of the book and also that they will not immediately date due to rapid technological advances. This contrasts with Chapter 5, which addresses topics that depend to a much larger extent on continuous technological progress, thus making the related topics of web survey methodology very turbulent and fluid. New technological developments and related methodological research are appearing on a daily basis and continuously bring about substantial modifications of the landscape of contemporary web survey methodology. Within this context, Chapter 5 addresses three rapidly changing, but extremely important aspects of web survey implementation: namely, multiple devices used to access web questionnaires, online panels and web survey software. Chapter 6 deals with broader methodological, management and professional frameworks, Chapter 7 concerns an outlook on future trends and Chapter 8 concludes the book.
The WebSM website (http://websm.org), which accompanies this book, contains various supplementary material, where concepts are further elaborated with examples and illustrations, additional literature reviews, as well as some practical rules, recommendations and highlights in manual-like formats.
We have sought a delicate and sometimes impossible balance of combining an academic writing style with the applied practitioner style, taking advantage of the different backgrounds and positions of the three of us in both the business world and the academic sector. Besides conceptualizing the web survey process, we thus also address all key practical problems, from selection of the question format to technical settings for sending email invitations.
Another difficult balance was sought by focusing on general web survey methodology principles, which are equally relevant for simple web surveys, as well as for complex settings in dedicated survey data collection organizations.
We should make it clear that web survey methodology is firmly rooted in general survey methodology, so its corresponding essential concepts are also introduced in the book, while for a broader insight we refer to relevant methodological textbooks. Our aim was to include general survey methodology issues to a sufficient extent so that the book can serve as a stand-alone textbook on web survey methodology.
A basic understanding of web survey methodology is increasingly essential for any research involving the collection of modern survey data. We expect further expansion of web surveys in the future, with extensions to new areas and usages. More innovations and turbulence related to the advance of technology are expected, particularly with respect to new devices and the integration of the entire survey research process. We believe that soon there will be almost no survey without at least some elements related to the web survey methodology framework. These factors place a high degree of importance on the subject we explore in this book.
To summarize, this book can be described as a survey/market research handbook focused only on one mode of data collection: web surveys. It is an evidence-based book with more 700 references to the past 15+ years of research on web surveys.
Mario Callegaro, Ph.D., is senior survey research scientist at Google London. Katja Lozar Manfreda and Vasja Vehovar are professors of statistics and methodology at the Faculty of Social Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and founders of the website http://websm.org, a curated reference database of web survey research started in 1998.