Susan Starr’s editorial in the January 2012 issue of JMLA (“Survey research: we can do better” J Med Libr Assoc. 2012 January; 100(1): 1–2) is a very clear presentation of 3 common problems that disqualify article submissions from being full-length JMLA research papers. Making the point that the time to address these problems is in survey development (ie, before the survey is administered), she also suggests solutions that are best practices for any survey:
Problem #1: The survey does not answer a question of interest to a large enough group JMLA readers. (For example, a survey that is used to collect data about local operational issues.)
Solution #1: Review the literature to identify an issue of general importance.
Problem #2: The results cannot be generalized. (Results might be biased if respondents differ from nonrespondents.)
Solution #2: Address sample bias by sending the survey to a representative sample and using techniques to encourage a high response rate; including questions to help determine whether sample bias is a concern; and comparing characteristics of the sample and the respondents to the study population.
Problem #3: Answers to survey questions do not provide the information that is needed. (For example, questions might be ambiguous or might not address all aspects of the issue being studied.)
Solution #3: Begin survey development by interviewing a few representatives from the survey population to be sure all critical aspects of the topic have been covered, and then pretest the survey.