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9/24/2005
05:59 PM
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To Build A Survey

Research scripting technology helps an addictions institute take some of the sting out of building up survey data.

In the academic research field, speed and efficiency are almost as important as they are in the business world. At the Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), which is part of the University of Buffalo, between 30 and 40 long-range behavioral studies on gambling, drug use and alcohol are being conducted at any one time. To operate those projects as seamlessly as possible -- not an easy task given the complexity of the investigative assignments -- the institute needed some help.

According to George Gogos, head of computer programming at the institute, the implementation of software from SPSS has helped RIA move its studies more efficiently from drawing board through completion.

"Back in the day, after a project got its grant funding, it often took almost a year until we were ready to go into the field," Gogos says. "Now, we can get up and running within two or three months."

The RIA's studies are composed of enormously elaborate questionnaires delivered via various methods. Subjects might sit down with pencil and paper as they would with a standardized test. They might click through surveys published on the Web (a function the institute only acquired with the SPSS implementation). Interviewers might come to the subjects' houses with laptops and conduct surveys face-to-face. Or interviewers might sit at workstations in the RIA office and conduct surveys over the telephone. Most of the institute's clients are psychologists or bio-medical researchers, and their studies are directed at large samples of people -- often enough numbering in the thousands. One ongoing study, which has looked at the behaviors of married couples, began the moment the brides and grooms received their marriage licenses. After nine years, the study is currently surveying those couples' children.

The complexity does not end there -- further wrinkles add to the difficulty of creating the studies and getting them out the door and into the field. Researches must identify a sample -- a huge list of potential subjects, randomly generated. The sample requires a significant amount of management time and energy, as people on the sample list are convinced (or not) to participate in studies. The surveys themselves contain questions that must be phrased precisely so as not to affect responses, and the questions must come in a specific order, for similar reasons. Often enough, if a subject responds to a query with a certain answer, the response will trigger another subset of questions -- called a "loop --and, many times, loops will occur within loops. Because of this complexity, the questionnaires must undergo a series of tests before they go out into the world, and this is one of the areas in which SPSS has helped, according to Gogos.

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