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How Our Survey Was Created
2003, Q3 (September 19, 2008)
By Naomi Kleid, Mike Boyd, Cheri Taylor, Sheila Loring, and Meredith Blackwelder

The 2003 Carolina Chapter Employment and Salary Survey took almost three months to create. The final outcome was a team effort by hardworking and careful survey developers. This article describes the team’s process and challenges. It also acknowledges the contributions of the many Carolina Chapter members who helped create the 2003 survey.

When the 2003 survey team first met in November 2002, Lydia Wong explained the process she went through to develop the 2001 survey, use SurveyMonkey.com to post it, download and analyze the data, and write the report.

The team broke into two groups:
(1) a survey creation-andadministration group that would develop the questions, place them on SurveyMonkey, and obtain the data; and (2) a survey report-writing group that would analyze the data and write a report on the results. Naomi Kleid, who had experience developing and administering surveys and who wanted to learn how to run online surveys, volunteered to head the survey development group. Louise Van Osdol, who had experience writing data analysis reports, volunteered to head the data-analysis and report-writing group. This article focuses on the survey development and administration effort. A separate article presents the survey results.

The team decided that the 2002 Carolina Chapter survey should not simply evaluate salary and benefits for working members. Because the downturn in the RTP economy had put many people out of work, we wanted our survey also to evaluate the impact of the economic situation on technical communicators. Consequently, we changed the name of our survey from the Salary Survey to the Employment and Salary Survey.

Before we started on a survey, we contacted other chapters to see if they had conducted surveys with questions about employment status. Naomi contacted the Silicon Valley chapter and the San Francisco chapter. They could not provide samples of employment questions. Our chapter was exploring new territory and developing a new type of STC survey.

With this new scope, Sheila Loring, Naomi, and Meredith Blackwelder went through the 36-question 2001 Carolina Chapter Salary Survey, compared it with the 42-question national STC Salary Survey, and developed additional employment-related questions. Meredith then entered a rough survey with almost 50 questions into a Microsoft Word file and sent it to Naomi for further processing. Thus, the “tweaking” began.

Naomi revised some of the question and answer choices to make them easier to analyze, did some preliminary usability testing, and sent the survey out to the survey team and to key SIG leaders for comment. Cheri Taylor gave input that would make the survey more meaningful to contractors and independent consultants.

At this point, we were still working with a Microsoft Word document and indicating changes using the “Track Changes” option. The document grew to more than 50 questions and different individuals were sending comments on different versions of the survey. Document control was becoming challenging because we were, after all, a group of volunteers working through the holidays to finalize a survey as best we could, given limited time, competing tasks on which to focus, and intermittent or nonexistent electricity, thanks to the December ice storm.

On January 1, the survey made the leap from a Microsoft Word document to an online survey on the SurveyMonkey.com Web site. This move provided more document control but, as a tradeoff, it created problems with document preparation. We experienced increased difficulty with proofreading (there is no SurveyMonkey spellcheck tool), changing words (no multipleauthor input option), and communicating changes (no change-highlighting ability).

Furthermore, SurveyMonkey offered a variety of formats for questions and answers, but some questions and answers had to be changed to fit the SurveyMonkey offerings. Because of these changes, the survey grew to 64 questions. Nevertheless, it took only one day for Naomi to put the entire survey on SurveyMonkey and make it immediately available for online, practical review. We would use SurveyMonkey again without hesitation.

The Chapter Board, survey team, and other helpful STC members reviewed, tested, and timed the survey online. Comments from Michael Harvey, Anneliese Kellner, Sheila, Cheri, David Heath, and others helped create the final version of our survey. One important change made at this point was in response to Sheila’s request that we indicate where the respondent was in terms of completing our long survey. Naomi added section headings that said Section X of Y, so respondents would know that they were getting closer to the end.

The survey became available to chapter members on February 15, 2003. After we went “live,” SurveyMonkey collected the data automatically. When we closed the survey on March 28, 2003, SurveyMonkey offered a variety of formats in which to download the data, including Web pagestyle HTML documents, compressed spreadsheets, and text files. At this point, the only difficult things were: (1) trying to figure out how to get a printable copy of the survey,now that it existed only as a SurveyMonkey online survey, (2) figuring out which data formats to request, and (3) “scrubbing” the data so that only data from chapter members was included. Catherine Goodfellow provided a list of valid member numbers, and David and Naomi manually checked the validity of the member numbers collected on the survey.

After the data was cleaned of responses from non-members, the job of the survey development and administration team was done, and the survey data analysis and report writing team took over.

Naomi Kleid, Ph.D. is President of InfoExact, Inc. She can be reached at nakleid at mindspring dot com. Mike Boyd can be reached at blueboyd at bellsouth dot net. Cheri Taylor can be reached at techwords at pobox dot com. Sheila Loring can be reached at loring at scriptorium dot com. Meredith Blackwelder is President of STC Carolina. She can be reached at mblackw at earthlink dot net. End of article.

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