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Political Science in Europe

WC104 - Survey Design and the Online Survey Lifecycle

Instructor Details

Instructor Photo

Kathrin Thomas

University of Aberdeen

Instructor Bio

Kathrin Thomas teaches at the University of Aberdeen. 

Previously, she was Senior Research Specialist in the Department of Politics at Princeton University, where she worked on the Arab Barometer.

Her main research interests are survey research methodology as well as social and political behaviour. Kathrin's current research includes measuring sensitive behaviour and attitudes using Randomised Response Techniques and other experimental designs in surveys, interviewer effects, and other methodological issues in survey practice.

Kathrin has extensive experience with survey data design, management, and analysis from her work on the Arab Barometer; the European Social Survey; the Austrian National Election Study; the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems; and applied survey practice at Kantarpublic (former TNS BMRB).

Course Dates and Times

Monday 6 to Friday 10 March 2017
Generally classes are either 09:00-12:30 or 14:00-17:30
15 hours over 5 days

Prerequisite Knowledge
  • No previous experience in survey research is needed, however, some practical experience in conducting surveys and analysing data will be beneficial.
  • It is not necessary to have any skills on using statistical software. The course focuses on the design of surveys, not on the analysis of survey data.
Short Outline

In this course the complete online survey lifecycle is covered. We discuss design and implementation of surveys from the initial planning phase to the data preparation as a final step. The course is taught from a Total Survey Error perspective weighing up data quality at each step of the process against associated costs. First, we look at the survey mode choices that should be made, how different ways to sample respondents follow from that choice, and think about survey nonresponse. On the second day we cover measurement of survey constructs focusing on the actual survey content. On the third and fourth day we focus on the design of online surveys using the obtained knowledge of the previous two days. Finally, we cover mixed-mode survey designs; what happens if different survey modes such as telephone and web surveys are combined in one design and how can we maintain high quality data. The course will be applicable to surveys of individuals, households, and organisations.

Long Course Outline

Why take a course on (online) survey design?

Surveys are everywhere and especially web surveys are a popular method for data collection. Within the social sciences, the majority of empirical studies rely on surveys to collect data on demographics, attitudes and behaviour. Setting up a survey may seem to be a relatively simple process. Everyone can ask questions! In practice however, conducting a survey often turns out be hugely complicated, for various reasons. First of all, the number of choices for the basic design of your survey can seem overwhelming. You have to think about the choice of survey mode, obtaining a good sample, limiting nonresponse, asking good questions and analysing data, all within time and costs constraints. To make things even more complicated, each individual design choice affects other aspects of the survey design. For example, choosing to do a survey online is generally cheap and quick, but it will be hard to obtain a representative sample, and some questions are hard to ask online. Moreover, the right choice of a survey design depends on your study population and your research question.

This course introduces you to (online) survey design. We will discuss the various stages that you encounter in doing a survey, and will evaluate the trade-offs between different design choices you may face. We do this from the perspective of Total Survey Error. The overall goal is to limit the overall error of your survey, in order to enable you to give the best answer possible to your research question.

Focus of the course

The course aims to give an overview of the survey design and survey process from a Total Survey Error perspective especially focusing on the online survey lifecycle. Web surveys are increasingly used due to time and cost efficiencies, the ever-improving technological possibilities, and the increase in Internet use.

What will not be covered

In this course, we will not cover the analysis of survey data. That is, how to analyse your survey data once you have collected them. For this, you will need to take (or have taken) a general statistics course for social scientists. The course will also not cover qualitative interviews. Our course focuses on doing a survey with structured, closed–ended questions. Finally, mixed-mode surveys are discussed (internet, face-to-face, telephone and mail), but only at a basic level.

How will the course work?

The instructor will give interactive lectures introducing the topics of the day. There will be ample room for discussion, and I encourage students to contribute their own experiences and questions. There will be room for discussing specific topics you may wish to know more about. The lectures include some practical group exercises and demonstrations. In the afternoon, students are expected to finish exercises related to a problem that is linked to the materials discussed in the morning, and optionally read some more in-depth literature. On day 1, you will design your own sample and choose a survey mode. On day 2 you work on designing and evaluating your own questionnaire. On day 3 you pre-test your questionnaire with fellow course participants, and on day 4 you will use an online software tool to implement your survey. On day 5 we take a closer look at a hypothetical dataset in SPSS and focus on data screening and cleaning. I encourage students to work on their own projects during the exercises, but will provide example questionnaires and datasets for those students that do not have their own survey project (yet) to work on.

Day-to-Day Schedule

Day-to-Day Reading List

Software Requirements

SPSS (version 18 of higher).

Hardware Requirements



None, see ‘Readings’ above.

Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed in due time.

Note from the Academic Convenors

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, contact the instructor before registering.

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