Public-opinion surveys have become an American obsession. And they're not just for TV networks and politicians. Businesses, nonprofit organizations and even schools use surveys to take the pulse of their constituencies, evaluate products and services and plan for the future.
Now there's a tool for people who want to create their own surveys. Survey Pro, a $195 program from Santa Clara-based Apian Software, (800) 237-4565, is an easy-to-use program that allows you to design, print and analyze a questionnaire. It requires an IBM-compatible PC and a Hewlett-Packard compatible laser printer.
The program has three phases. First you design and print out the questionnaire. Then, after the survey forms are filled out, you use the program to enter the responses. Finally, you perform an analysis and print out a report.
The program allows you to create open-ended questions or select from several optional scales that measure levels of agreement, excellence and importance. These scales, along with the appropriate questions, could be used to evaluate products or help rank new programs or services in order of priority. There are also scales that allow people to enter numbers, dollars or percentages.
Once you've created a draft of your questionnaire, you can dress it up with headlines and different type styles. There aren't any drawing tools, but you can import a logo or scanned photograph (TIF or PCX file) created with another program. Survey Pro comes with a variety of attractive laser printer fonts (type styles) that are automatically loaded into your printer's memory. I got excellent results with both the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet III and with the Everex LaserScript LX.
Once the questionnaires have been filled out, you use the program to enter the data. The data entry screen is the same as the one you created for the printed questionnaire. The program allows you to enter data from up to many as 2,000 respondents. That's more than most professional research firms use for national public opinion polls.
After the data is entered, the program can print out a variety of reports. These range from simple tables showing the frequency of responses, to sophisticated cross tabulations that allow you compare how responses to one question correlate with responses to others. This technique allows you to break down your data by respondents' sex, age, income or any other criteria. The program also prints charts and graphs that can be used in printed reports or stand-up presentations.
Survey Pro reports total responses and averages but it doesn't offer the sophisticated statistical reports needed by some professional research organizations. It does, however, allow you to export the data to a standard format that can imported into other programs so that you can, if necessary, analyze the data using a spreadsheet, database or statistical package. Because of that feature, the program is being used by some professional survey consultants, according to Apian President Bill Ray.
The program is an excellent tool for getting customer or member feedback, but it's not necessarily suited for the more subtle questions sometimes used in attitudinal surveys. While it makes the questionnaires more attractive and helps you select balanced response scales, it can't help you with the wording of the questions.
Peter Rossi, director of the Social and Demographic Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts and former director of the National Opinion Research Center, says such a tool can be useful in helping alleviate the clerical chores associated with survey design, but cautions that "the writing of questions is not trivial."