Czaja, Ronald and Blair, Johnny. Designing surveys: a guide to decisions and procedures. 2nd ed. London: Sage, 2005. 300 p. ISBN 0761927468. £35.95
Despite competition from an increasing number of qualitative approaches the survey is a research method that more than other methods penetrates our society. The focus of Designing surveys is on sample surveys from planning to completed data collection whether through mail, interviews or Web-based questionnaires. The number of issues to consider in planning and conducting a survey study are many more than one might initially think of. Thus this book is filled with information guiding the many decisions to make in a careful application of the method. The book is intended to guide the novice researcher in conducting small or medium-sized surveys. However, also researchers with some experience may find this book useful to consult. New ways of data-collection such as the Internet are gaining ground and offer also fairly affordable data.
As should be the case, the book initially makes clear the importance of purpose. What kind of study to make, what issues to address and what type of results to report are questions that will become important already when considering the sample frame, sampling techniques and methods for the data collection.
Four main methods of data collection are discussed and compared: mailed questionnaires, Internet surveys, telephone interviews and face-to-face interviews. The advantages and disadvantages of each are discussed in detail. As can be expected when planning surveys, costs and time limitations will influence the decisions and there are many examples and calculations illustrating effects on costs as well as on confidence.
Design of the sample and determination of the sample size is dealt with in detail with examples using the Cochran (1977) formula for determining the sample size. Several detailed examples illustrate how to discuss and evaluate sampling and data collection considering the target group characteristics and different data-collection procedures. However, even with this restricted scope there is much more to sampling than this introduction can cover and sources of additional information are included in the text as well as in a section for further study in the final chapter.
The problem of writing and organizing questions are dealt with in separate chapters including several useful and illustrative examples. Especially helpful are also the many sections concerned with quality of data - from pre-testing to interviewer training, issues of non-response and ethical issues. In appendices are Sample surveys and a code of professional ethics are provided in the appendices.
What could be discussed even more might be the general problem of declining response rates for surveys in Western countries. This trend has been visible for decades and it is now very difficult to reach desirable response rates, which in turn calls for careful use of significance tests and how results are presented.
The authors obviously have a long experience of surveys and the book would be useful when entering a survey project. However, the topic is not easy to present in an exciting way. The reader probably needs to be quite motivated to learn the details of surveys and perhaps already in the process of doing one in order to fully appreciate the content.
Cochran, W.G. (1977). Sampling techniques. 3rd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Prof. Lars Höglund