Selecting a Survey Instrument


Posted April 10, 2013

When selecting a survey instrument for dissertation research, there are some important factors that should influence the decision.  First, and foremost, the instrument should accurately measure the variable of interest.  If the goal of research is to assess job satisfaction of top executives at fortune 500 companies, you will need to select an instrument that measures job satisfaction.  In this instance, the Job Satisfaction Survey would be a good choice.  The instrument is composed of 36 Likert scale items.  In the case of this particular instrument, you can calculate a total score, or you calculate nine sub-scale scores.  If you want to know about overall job satisfaction, the total score would be a sufficient measure.
It is important when selecting a survey instrument that it has been found to be reliable and valid.  Reliability refers to the extent that the instrument yields the same results over multiple trials.  Validity refers to the extent that the instrument measures what it was designed to measure.  There are several ways to assess the reliability and validity of the instrument once data has been collected however, these factors are important to know prior to data collection.  To determine if the instrument has been proven reliable and valid, it is important to research the instrument and find out what previous studies ascertained.  A quick assessment of previous research that used the instrument should allow you to do this.
When selecting a survey instrument, it is important to know how total scores or averages are calculated and what higher or lower scores indicate.  Oftentimes, in survey instruments, the tool can be comprised of negatively worded items as well as positively worded items.  When scoring these instruments, it is important to know which items need to be reverse scored prior to calculation.  It is important to understand how the instrument has been scored in previous studies and to duplicate that scoring method for your study.
One other factor to consider when selecting an instrument is the type of data you will be obtain.  If you are planning to use a simply descriptive study, the design of the response options can vary from question to question.  If you plan to use inferential statistics, it is beneficial to be able to create total scores.  In order to create total scores or average scores, you typically want all response options that make up a particular scale or sub-scale to have the same range, perhaps 1 – 5 where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree.
Remember, the two most important factors in selecting an instrument are that the instrument measures your variable of interest and that it is reliable and valid.  That information coupled with the other suggestions will assist you in the selection of an excellent instrument.

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