The use of surveys in health care research has become increasingly popular. Often seen as an inexpensive, quick, and simple way to address a research question, surveys are especially attractive to researchers in training or during early career stages when research funding is limited and the time to complete a research project is limited. Yet, when used as research instruments, surveys should be developed with the same scientific rigor as other measurement instruments used to collect data in health care research.
Traditional research methodologies are known for rigorous protocols, including exact specifications for reproducibility and often the presence of control groups to allow for comparisons between cohorts. Concepts such as reliability and validity are not only relevant for measurement instruments of “hard” data, such as thermometers or mass spectrometers, but also for measurement instruments of “soft” data, such as surveys. Researchers using surveys need to ensure that each question will result in a valid and reliable measure of what the question was intended to measure. Demonstrating the validity and reliability of survey questions requires great effort, and although a thorough psychometric validation is not always warranted, every survey should undergo a methodologically reproducible process through development, selection of potential respondents, testing, and administration so that survey results are reproducible and generalizable.
Despite numerous reference books,1–4 guidelines, and best practices on survey design,5–9 surveys are often constructed, administered, and submitted for publication without previous consultation of these references and their recommendations. In this article, we highlight key concepts for survey development, focusing on the critical elements of designing and implementing a survey to yield meaningful and publishable results.
Key Concepts of Survey Development
To Survey or Not to Survey? That Is the Question
Understanding when to use a survey is the first …