Select appropriate method

Survey – self completion or interview

There are two principle ways of delivering a quantitative survey, either by interview or by self-completion. Besides cost, other advantages / disadvantages of a self-completed interview include:

Survey advantages and disadvantages

Semi-structured / depth interview

Depth interviews allow researchers to gather more detailed insights of respondent viewpoints than is possible in a closed survey. Such insights may not otherwise be discovered within the boundaries of a survey ie the survey may not always ask the “right” questions. Depth interviews can be conducted face-to-face or over the phone, depending on research requirements / convenience. These interviews are likely to take longer than a short paper questionnaire, and may require more thought from the respondent. Respondents may also have to be probed by the interviewer for them to keep things on track.

The flexibility of the process has both pros (the conversation can evolve) and cons (the conversation can divert from the research topic), and is heavily dependent on the ability of the interviewer to keep things on track. Interviews can also inform the next stage of the research; in a previous project, CIPFA Research used responses from depth interviews to inform the topics of an online discussion forum, to see whether comments were reflective of others’. 

It is likely that these interviews will need to be recorded and transcribed (see data processing).

Focus group

Focus groups provide interaction between participants, which can prompt participants to reveal their thoughts and opinions. The process also saves time compared with individual interviews, as several participants can respond within the same timeframe. A drawback is that participant feelings maybe be affected by those of others, or participants may be more reluctant to reveal their true feelings in the presence of others. The group dynamic is important because participants may be restricted in their ability to participate due to the dominance of other respondents.

Secondary data analysis

Otherwise known as desk research, this method involves identifying and analysing existing data. This information may exist within an organisation or from other published sources. The information gathered from this method can help inform the next steps of the research process, or even satisfy the research needs altogether. In a recent project, CIPFA Research used this method as a way of identifying whether an external survey was conducted according to existing research guidelines.

Desk research can also be used as a way of adding context / supplementary information to primary data analysis; for example, CIPFA Research compares previous survey data with the latest responses in national reports for archive and library users. Previous responses to open-ended questions also inform the way the team frames its library coding reports.