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Surveys and Civility

January 9, 2015

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hope you’ve had a good first full week of 2015. I have to say it has been hard to get back to work after a lovely holiday break, especially when it feels like going from zero to sixty without any warm-up. Today I just want to talk a bit about survey research and civility as it has been on my mind as I’ve been talking with friends and doing research. So let’s get to it.

As I’m in a faculty librarian role, I’m expected to do research. Luckily, I quite like research and sharing research results with others so I’m not here to complain about doing research, far from it. Most of my research, too, has not involved surveys, but instead interviews and archival research. However, sometimes, like many researchers, I need to use a survey to gather data for my research or to recruit potential interviewees. And that means, often, sending out a call on a listserv (or many listservs, depending) hoping that people will, out of the goodness of the hearts, take the time to complete a survey. And, happily, many often do, for which I’m grateful and I try to return the favor by completing surveys when they come over listservs and I can write to whatever topic/questions the researcher is studying with the survey. By and large, I’ve had good luck with my surveys, getting useful responses and finding many people to interview for various projects, but it has also raised a couple of questions for me.

Two questions: 1. Why does anyone feel the need to go through a survey and tell a researcher their questions are stupid? and 2. Why complete the survey if you feel that way or feel you have nothing to contribute?

I’m at a loss for the motives behind those two behaviors. All the participation calls for surveys I’ve seen on the listservs clearly state what the survey is about and who the researcher is hoping will complete the survey. No one is forcing anyone to complete the survey. Also, it is just plain rude to be nasty on someone’s survey, even if you feel the questions could have been worded better or the data collected differently. I’ve been told before that my questions are horrible and should be multiple choice, etc.. Clearly those people stating that never considered that multiple choice questions wouldn’t answer my research questions or would bias the responses or that you can only run statistical tests on data collected in specific manners to be valid.

So the need to be petty and mean on an anonymous survey absolutely baffles me.

Happily though, those encounters are few and far between and the majority of people are incredibly sweet and kind in sharing their stories, experiences, and knowledge with us researchers. And I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to anyone who has ever completed a survey I’ve sent over a listserv and/or agreed to be interviewed. You are the reason that we are able to continue adding to the research base of our profession and the reason that I continue to put my work out into the wilds of the internet and professional literature, even though I sometimes get caught off guard when reading through responses.

So all I’m really saying is try to be helpful and kind to researchers when you are taking a survey. And, if the survey doesn’t apply to you–or offends your idea of proper survey design–don’t respond. Civility is something we could all use more of in this world and something we all appreciate.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful start to your new year and I’ll be back next week with some more news. Allons-y!

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