survey image 3The use of a survey is a valuable evaluation tool, especially in the world of electronic media. The survey allows individuals to gather data (both qualitative and quantitative) easily and relatively inexpensively. When I want information about surveys, I turn to the 4th edition of the Dillman book Dillman 4th ed. (Dillman, Smyth, & Christian, 2014*). Dillman has advocated the “Tailored Design Method” for a long time. (I first became aware of his method, which he called “Total Design Method,” in his 1978 first edition,dillman 1st edition a thin, 320 page volume [as opposed to the 509 page fourth edition].)

Today I want to talk about the “Tailored Design” method (originally known as total design method).

In the 4th edition, Dillman et al. say that “…in order to minimize total survey error, surveyors have to customize or tailor their survey designs to their particular situations.” They are quick to point out (through various examples) that the same procedures won’t work  for all surveys.  The “Tailored Design Method” refers to the customizing survey procedures for each separate survey.  It is based upon the topic of the survey and the audience being surveyed as well as the resources available and the time-line in use.  In his first edition, Dillman indicated that the TDM (Tailored Design Method) would produce a response rate of 75% for mail surveys and an 80%-90% response rate is possible for telephone surveys. Although I cannot easily find the same numbers in the 4th edition, I can provide an example (from the 4th edition on page 21-22) where the response rate is 77% after a combined contact of mail and email over one month time. They used five contacts of both hard and electronic copy.

This is impressive. (Most surveys I and others I work with conduct have a response rate less than 50%.) Dillman et al. indicate that there are three fundamental considerations in using the TDM. They are:

  1. Reducing four sources of survey error–coverage, sampling, nonresponse, and measurement;
  2. Developing a set of survey procedures that interact and work together to encourage all sample members to respond; and
  3. Taking into consideration elements such as survey sponsorship, nature of survey population, and the content of the survey questions.

The use of a social exchange perspective suggests that respondent behavior is motivated by the return that behavior is expected, and usually does, bring. This perspective affects the decisions made regarding coverage and sampling, the way questions are written and questionnaires are constructed, and determines how contacts will produce the intended sample.

If you don’t have a copy of this book (yes, there are other survey books out there) on your desk, get one! It is well worth the cost ($95.00, Wiley; $79.42, Amazon).

* Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D. & Christian, L. M. (2014)  Internet, phone, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method (4th ed.). Hoboken, N. J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

my two cents.


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