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Kevin B. This article examines some advantages and disadvantages of conducting online survey research. It explores current features, issues, pricing, and limitations associated with products and services, such as online questionnaire features and services to facilitate the online survey process, such as those offered by web survey businesses. The review shows that current online survey products and services can vary considerably in terms of available features, consumer costs, and limitations. It is concluded that online survey researchers should conduct a careful assessment of their research goals, research timeline, and financial situation before choosing a specific product or service.

The technology for online survey research is young and evolving. Until recently, creating and conducting an online survey was a time-consuming task requiring familiarity with web authoring programs, HTML code, and scripting programs.

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Today, survey authoring software packages and online survey services make online survey research much easier and faster. Yet many researchers in different disciplines may be unaware of the advantages and disadvantages associated with conducting survey research online. Advantages include access to individuals in distant locations, the ability to reach difficult to contact participants, and the convenience of having automated data collection, which reduces researcher time and effort.

Disadvantages of online survey research include uncertainty over the validity of the data and sampling issues, and concerns surrounding the de, implementation, and evaluation of an online survey. This article considers and evaluates the advantages and disadvantages related to conducting online surveys identified in research.

In addition, it reviews the current state of available web survey software packages and services, various features of these software packages and services, and their advantages and limitations.

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The purpose of the article is to provide an overview of issues and resources in order to assist researchers in determining if they would benefit from using online surveys, and to guide them in the selection and use of online survey techniques. To facilitate these goals, which are both methodological and applied, the author draws on published research dealing with online survey methods, as well as his experience conducting more than 10 online surveys. Researchers in a variety of disciplines may find the Internet a fruitful area for conducting survey research.

As the cost of computer hardware and software continues to decrease, and the popularity of the Internet increases, more segments of society are using the Internet for communication and information Fox et al.

Thousands of groups and organizations have moved online, many of them aggressively promoting their presence through the use of search engines, lists, and banner advertisements. These organizations not only offer information to consumers, they also present opportunities for researchers to access a variety of populations who are affiliated with these groups. Communication researchers may find the Internet an especially rich domain for conducting survey research. In many cases, communities and groups exist only in cyberspace. For example, it would be difficult to find a large, concentrated group of people conducting 35 wm reply for free chat discussions of topics such as cyber-stalking, online stock trading, and the pros and cons of virtual dating.

While people certainly discuss such issues among friends, family members, and co-workers, few meet face-to-face in large groups to discuss them. One advantage of virtual communities as sites for research is that they offer a mechanism through which a researcher can gain access to people who share specific interests, attitudes, beliefs, and values regarding an issue, problem, or activity. For example, researchers can find a concentrated of older individuals who use computers on the Internet-based community SeniorNet Furlong, ; Wright, ac.

In contrast, with traditional survey research methods it may be more difficult to reach a large of demographically-similar older people who are interested in computers. Another example is the case of individuals with diseases or conditions, such as HIV, eating disorders, and physical disabilities. Individuals with these conditions and diseases are often difficult to reach because they are stigmatized offline.

More generally, the Internet enables communication among people who may be hesitant to meet face-to-face. For example, individuals with unpopular political views may hesitate to express themselves openly, and groups of individuals such as Arab-Americans may feel uncomfortable talking about anti-Arab sentiment in public places Muhtaseb, These individuals and groups often can be reached on the Internet in larger s than would be possible using face-to-face research methods. A second advantage is that Internet-based survey research may save time for researchers.

A researcher interested in surveying hard-to-reach populations can quickly gain access to large s of such individuals by posting invitations to participate to newsgroups, chat rooms, and message board communities. In the face-to-face research environment, it would take considerably longer-if it were possible at all-to find an equivalent of people with specific attributes, interests, and attitudes in one location. Once an invitation to participate in a survey is posted to the website of a community of interest, ed to people through a listserv service, or distributed through an online survey research service, researchers may collect data while working on other projects Andrews et al.

Responses to online surveys can be transmitted to the 35 wm reply for free chat immediately viaor posted to an HTML document or database file. This allows researchers to conduct preliminary analyses on collected data while waiting for the desired of responses to accumulate Llieva et al. First generation online survey researchers often used -based surveys, which involved creating online survey forms using word processing software, and later used products such as Macromedia's Dreamweaver.

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More recently, online survey creation software packages provide a variety of templates to create and implement online surveys more easily, as well as to export data to statistical software packages. Moreover, a of online survey services provide survey de assistance, generate samples, and analyze and interpret data. Some of the newer software packages and web-based services are detailed below. Paper surveys tend to be costly, even when using a relatively small sample, and the costs of a traditional large-scale survey using mailed questionnaires can be enormous. The use of online surveys circumvents this problem by eliminating the need for paper and other costs, such as those incurred through postage, printing, and data entry Llieva et al.

Costs for recording equipment, travel, and the telephone can be eliminated. In addition, transcription costs can be avoided since online responses are automatically documented. Newer online survey creation software and web survey services costs can vary from very little to thousands of dollars depending upon the types of features and services selected; however, this is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of traditional paper-and-pencil surveys.

As discussed above, online surveys offer many advantages over traditional surveys. However, there are also disadvantages that should be considered by researchers contemplating using online survey methodology. Although many of the problems discussed in this section are also inherent in traditional survey research, some are unique to the computer medium.

When conducting online research, investigators can encounter problems as regards sampling Andrews et al.

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For example, relatively little may be known about the characteristics of people in online communities, aside from some basic demographic variables, and even this information may be questionable Dillman, ; Stanton, A of recent web survey services provide access to certain populations by offering access to lists generated from other online surveys conducted through the web survey service. Some offer access to specialized populations based on data from surveys. However, if the data were self-reported, there is no guarantee that participants from surveys provided accurate demographic or characteristics information.

Some virtual groups and organizations provide membership lists that can help researchers establish a sampling frame. However, not all members of virtual groups and organizations allow their addresses to be listed, and some may not allow administrators to provide their addresses to researchers. This makes accurately sizing an online population difficult. Once an list is obtained, it is possible to an online survey invitation and link to every member on the list. Theoretically, this can give researchers a sampling frame. One solution is for researchers to require participants to contact them to obtain a unique code and a place to include this code on the online questionnaire prior 35 wm reply for free chat completing a survey.

However, requiring this extra step may ificantly reduce the response rate. Another solution that some newer web survey programs offer is response tracking. Participants are required to submit their address in order to complete the survey. Once they have completed the survey, the survey program remembers the participant's address and does not allow anyone using that address access to the survey.

Establishing a sampling frame when researching an online community presents a of challenges. Unlike membership-based organizations, many online communities, such as community bulletin boards and chat rooms, do not typically provide participant addresses. Membership is based on common interests, not fees, and little information is required when registering to use these communities, if registration is required at all.

Some researchers attempt to establish a sampling frame by counting the of participants in an online community, or the published of members, over a given period of time. In either case, the ebb and flow of communication in online communities can make it difficult to establish an accurate sampling frame. For example, participation in online communities may be sporadic depending on the nature of the group and the individuals involved in discussions. Because lurkers do not make their presence known to the group, this makes it difficult to obtain an accurate sampling frame or an accurate estimate of the population characteristics.

As internet communities become more stable, some community administrators are beginning to compile statistics on their community's participants. Many communities require a person to register with the community in order to participate in discussions, and some communities are willing to provide researchers with statistics about community membership at least in aggregate form.

Registration typically involves asking for the individual's name, basic demographic information such as age and gender, and address. Other community administrators might ask participants for information about interests, income level, education, etc. Some communities are willing to share participant information with researchers as a validation technique by comparing the survey sample characteristics with those of the online community in general. Yet, because individuals easily can lie about any information they report to community administrators, there is no guarantee of accuracy. When possible, using both online and traditional paper surveys helps to assess whether individuals responding to the online version are responding in systematically different ways from those who completed the paper version.

For example, Query and Wright used a combination of online and paper surveys to study older adults who were caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. The researchers attempted to assess whether the online responses were skewed in any way by comparing the responses from both subsamples. While no ificant differences between the two 35 wm reply for free chat were found in this particular study, real differences in responses between Internet users and non-Internet users might exist in other populations.

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This may make it difficult to assess whether the observed differences are due to factors such as participant deception or actual differences due to characteristics associated with computer and non-computer users. One relatively inexpensive technique used by market researchers to increase response rates is to offer some type of financial incentive, e. Individuals who participate in the survey are given a chance to win a prize or gift certificate, and the winner is selected randomly from the pool of respondents. However, this technique is not without problems. Straight incentives such as a coupon redeemable for real merchandise, i.

Self-selection bias is another major limitation of online survey research Stanton, ; Thompson et al. In any given Internet community, there are undoubtedly some individuals who are more likely than others to complete an online survey. Many Internet communities pay for community operations with advertising. This can desensitize participants to worthwhile survey requests posted on the website.

In short, there is a tendency of some individuals to respond to an invitation to participate in an online survey, while 35 wm reply for free chat ignore it, leading to a systematic bias. These sampling issues inhibit researchers' ability to make generalizations about study findings. This, in turn, limits their ability to estimate population parameters, which presents the greatest threat to conducting probability research.

For researchers interested only in conducting nonprobability research, these issues are somewhat less of a concern. Researchers who use nonprobability samples assume that they will not be able to estimate population parameters. Many of the problems discussed here are not unique to online survey research. Mailed surveys suffer from the same basic limitations. While a researcher may have a person's mailing address, he or she does not know for certain whether the recipient of the mailed survey is the person who actually completes and returns it Schmidt, Moreover, respondents to mailed surveys can misrepresent their age, gender, level of education, and a host of other variables as easily as a person can in an online survey.

Even when the precise characteristics of a sample are known by the researcher, people can still respond in socially desirable ways or misrepresent their identity or their true feelings about the content of the survey. The best defense against deception that researchers may have is replication. Only by conducting multiple online surveys with the same or similar types of Internet communities can researchers gain a reliable picture of the characteristics of online survey participants.

Some researchers access potential participants by posting invitations to participate in a survey on community bulletin boards, discussion groups, and chat rooms. A community moderator may delete the unwanted post, or the researcher may be inundated with s from irate members of the community. Researchers using invitations to participate in a survey may face similar rejection. An unwanted advertisement is often considered an invasion of privacy.

The invitation for the survey may be deleted, or the researcher may receive from participants complaining about it.

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Some participants in Internet communities actually welcome studies by researchers, especially when members are interested in how their community is perceived by others. With some diplomatic dialogue initiated by the researcher, it is often possible to work with web community administrators and participants when proposing a study idea Reid, This is a more ethnographic approach. Although accessing some online communities can be extremely challenging, seeking permission from the community and taking time to explain the purpose of the study might help a researcher to gain access.

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