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Academic Karma February 16, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Assessment, Online Tools.
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survey   Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a professor about a survey she wanted to post online. I felt like I had been posting quite a few of those surveys on my site recently. The conversation worked its way around to population and sample, basic elements in the creation of any study, when it dawned on me that if the survey had appeared in my own e-mail pile, I would probably have discarded it.

How many surveys, I wonder, do people simply discarded out of exhaustion? People I know are crawling through their e-mails trying to deal with the most pressing and important items first, then dealing with the rest of them that can be expeditiously put away or deleted outright after a quick glance. Surveys land in an odd place in our time triage. If they were all roughly asking for the same commitment of time, we could glance at a clock and decide we had the five minutes to spare. However, I have seen surveys recently that go on for pages, online, and give no indication of when they are going to end. I love, and have used regularly, indicator graphics to show my participants how close to the end they are. I try to avoid posting surveys that ask for too many comments from participants. Writing takes time and good writing takes some thought. If you want a decent answer from people, try not to let your questions wear them down.

If you encountered a survey asking you to read a statement, and then write a response on the blank page attached, you would have to ask why, and whether anybody would ever actually read your work? I would wager that you would find a good reason not to do it. If you make the space for the answer smaller people may be inclined to write a little, but still, they might wonder if the effort you are asking them to expend would be worth it.

I feel sometimes like the length of time I spend working on a survey is indirectly proportional to the number of responses the survey writer is ever going to see. I told my colleague that seeing so many surveys in my e-mail had the effect of a narcotizing dysfunction, the sheer number of them numbs me, and I simply trash them. Her response is that she feels obliged to answer every one since she puts out so many surveys herself. It is a form of academic karma, I suppose.

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