Computer Programs For Constructing Questionnaires

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Because market research - a booming business area - utilizes questionnaires for various types of surveys, several software companies have developed commercial computer programs to cater to these needs: Currently there are over 30 available desktop packages that combine questionnaire design, data collection, and data analysis. However, as Macer (1999) summarizes, few packages rise to the challenge of each stage in the process with the same degree of accomplishment, and development effort often tends to gravitate to some areas at the expense of others. For comprehensive listings and descriptions of the programs on the market, see for example the Research Software Central database (http://www.macer.co.uk/rscentral/ rscentral.html) or the database of the Association for Survey Computing (U.K.), which contains a classified listing of 123 software packages related to survey research, with attributes and suppliers (http://www.asc.org.uk/Register/index.htm).

Here I will introduce one computer program that I am familiar with: SphinxSurvey, distributed by Scolari/Sage (the publishers of such well-known qualitative data analysis software as NUD*IST and NVivo), is an integrated, PC-based Windows package for conducting questionnaire-based surveys (for a review, see Macer, 1999). It has built-in functions to help the user to design and print professional questionnaires with ease. The program can handle a variety of question types, including open and closed questions. Similar questions can be grouped and conditional jumps can be defined to permit complex question routings (e.g., if people answer 'yes' to Question X, they should move to Question Y). In addition, extensive question libraries can be developed and used to aid the preparation of an item pool.

SphinxSurvey is certainly a useful tool in providing a computerized framework for quick and professional questionnaire construction (the data processing functions of the program will be analyzed in Section 4.5). The novice researcher will find various ready-made options to choose from by simply clicking on items in the menu. The display format is quite flexible and the final result is fairly attractive. Because of the paramount importance of the appropriate layout (cf. Section 2.1.2), I would still design the final version of a questionnaire on a more powerful word processor, but in many situations the available formats are sufficient.

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