What a survey is Most people have many opportunities to experience the joys of filling out a survey. They come in your mail, pop up in your email, and are asked by phone (especially in the months leading up to an election!). Lots of people want to know your opinion, and surveys are a great way of gathering the perspectives of a number of people. If you gather enough surveys in a scientific way, you may be able to make generalizations about the opinions and perspectives of a larger population. A smaller sample will still yield an overview of the opinions and perspectives of those who returned the survey. If you want to know the basics of how people stand on an issue, how they feel or act, a survey can be an efficient and effective way of gathering data. As respondents provide data to describe themselves, analysis can also reveal if there are differences in perspectives, impact, actions, etc. between different groups of respondents. What a survey isn't Surveys are often not so good at capturing much depth in people's perspectives or thoughts. While they may offer an opportunity for respondents to write in "long answers", the bulk of a survey usually asks for a short answer or a response selected from a list of options. Surveys also rarely offer much opportunity for respondents to shape the content; you are responding to what a researcher and the client organization has determined is important to study. As with other kinds of research you may be asked to participate in, surveys should also be transparent. You should always know who is doing the survey and how the results will be used. What is the value of a survey to the participant? A survey can be a great opportunity to get your opinion heard. If you do take the time to RETURN YOUR SURVEY to your caring and interested researcher (who only wants the best for you, by the way!), your opinion will be used to shape the research findings. The greater the percent of those who respond, the more valid the picture formed by the survey findings. Survey findings can be used to change programs, continue them as is, or stop them entirely. Surveys require an investment by the organization, so you can usually trust that the results will really be used. While you are completing the survey, you can reflect on your opinions and experiences. Perhaps you will see new themes in your answers that you had not noticed before. Perhaps you will clarify your thoughts or have a happy reminder of a good experience. Or, perhaps you will see that what you found important about a program or experience was actually not its intended purpose. That's kind of interesting, don't you think?? You should also be able to see the final report of the survey results, so you can see how others felt and how the results were used. Researchers usually welcome requests for more information or the chance to share how the information will be used. The census (http://www.census.gov/main/www/cen2000.html) is the most familiar survey to many people. But, if you are interested in seeing other examples of how surveys have been used to help understand public opinion about a variety of issues, check out these links (copy and paste into your browser): http://www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlpubs/crlnews/backissues2006/october06/opinionpoll.cfm http://www.csus.edu/indiv/n/nalderk/Public%20Opinion%20Websites.htm http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/pollres.html#online.