I do a lot of survey research. Many of the studies I do rely on people sharing their experiences. As an organizational scientist, I am usually asking about the workplace. The studies I do, usually with teams of colleagues and students, asks people to complete assessments that tap into the aspects of work we are investigating. One of the major tasks we face is choosing assessments for a questionnaire study.
Asking the Right Questions
Every study, whether done for academic research or practice, begins by identifying what you want to learn about. You choose the particular aspects or variables you want to study. I have done a lot of research on job stress, so I decide what aspects of the job are of interest, such as conflict with other employees or amount of workload. I then plan the other things I want to ask about, for example, whether people experience emotional distress or physical health symptoms. My goal is often to see if there is a link between aspects of the job and people’s stress reactions.
The next step is to figure out how each variable will be measured. Will a single question be sufficient (e.g., asking about the person’s age) or would it be better to use a multiple item scale, for example, asking about the person’s perception of organizational climate? Will I ask people to respond about their own experiences or about someone else’s, such as a subordinate?
Choosing Assessments for a Questionnaire Study
For each variable you wish to measure, there is a choice between creating your own custom-made assessment or finding an off-the-shelf option. For many of the things we wish to study, there can be one or more well established assessments available. Many have sound research behind them that provides confidence that they will accomplish your goal. There is no guarantee, however, that just because an assessment has been often used in the academic literature, it is the best for your purpose. Many have limitations that might not make them a good choice.
There are three ways to find assessments, and often people use all three.
- Rely on archives that people have put together. I have created an archive on my website about organizational measures that contains my own assessments and links to assessments of others. I also have links to other archives such as my companion website on mental health and well-being measures.
- Do a literature search of the academic literature. This relies on research databases. Some, like APA PsycInfo, are accessible through a university library or personal subscription. Others, like Google Scholar, are open access. Just enter the name of the variable of interest, and see if you can find assessments. Often your search will reveal articles that have studied the variable, and if you access the article, you can see what assessments those authors used. Many articles are behind a pay wall, but many are not as researchers might make their work available, for example, through the free ResearchGate.
- Check commercial assessment companies to see if they have what you need. There is a cost for their assessments.
Keep in mind that many assessments are in the public domain, particularly those developed with a government grant. Others are copyrighted, but authors often allow free use for educational or research purposes. Even commercial companies sometimes allow discounted or even free use to students and researchers.
An alternative is to create your own assessment. This is the best choice when you cannot find a suitable assessment that fits your needs. You should be aware that writing questions is easy but writing the right questions that reflect exactly what you want to learn is not. There is both an art and science to writing good questions and to creating assessments that work as intended. The development of assessments requires expertise and research to select just the right questions for your purpose. For this reason it is important that at least one member of your team has the expertise needed to create assessments.
Assessment is the heart of survey research, so choosing assessments for a questionnaire study is important. You want to be sure that the assessments you use are the right ones for your purpose, and often that means combing your own custom assessments with those you find already developed.