Conducting Research on the Internet:: Online Survey Design, Development and Implementation Guidelines
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Using the Internet to conduct quantitative research presents challenges not found in conventional research. Some of our knowledge concerning the effective design and use of paper-based surveys does translate into electronic formats. However, electronic surveys have distinctive technological, demographic and response characteristics that affect how they should be designed, when they can be used and how they can be implemented. Survey design, subject privacy and confidentiality, sampling and subject solicitation, distribution methods and response rates and survey piloting are critical methodological components that must be addressed in order to conduct sound online research. This paper focuses on those distinctive characteristics. It reviews the current literature on the subject of electronic surveys and presents guidelines for designing, developing and implementing them, particularly web-based surveys. This paper argues that Web-based surveys are superior to email surveys in many aspects, but that email combined, perhaps with offline media, is an excellent vehicle for inviting individuals to participate in Web-based surveys. The application of these guidelines are demonstrated through the authors’ current research involving defining the nature of “non-public participation” (commonly referred to as lurking) in online discussion groups. Guidelines do not eliminate the many “trade-off” decisions required in the use of online surveys.