Optimizing Survey for Results

Human Research Subjects & Institutional Review Board (IRB) Requirements:

  • ISU Office for Responsible Research, http://www.compliance.iastate.edu/
  • Human subject testing — IRB, http://www.compliance.iastate.edu/irb/
    • Frequently asked questions
    • Training
    • ISU Policies
    • Forms: Application, Exemption, Consent templates and Waivers, Modification forms, Project Closure forms, etc.
    • Review process
  • You must include details about any participation incentives you plan to offer in the survey that is being reviewed by IRB. An incentive could take the form of a chance to win a prize, course credit, or cash payment.

Key points:

  • Complete the online “Protecting Human Research Participants” training from the National Institute of Health.
  • Your survey should be in its final form when you seek IRB approval. This is the version that should be submitted to CHS ODL for coding.
  • After initial submission to IRB, the only changes that should occur to the survey are the ones that IRB requests.
  • Any changes to an IRB approved survey (e.g. reordering questions, rewording, removing questions, adding a respondent incentive) must be resubmitted for IRB approval.
  • If your survey falls within the category of exempt research, as defined by federal regulations, you must still complete the “Exempt Study Review Form”.
  • Remember that you cannot publish any data that is collected prior to receiving your IRB approval or exemption notice.

Survey design considerations:

  • Seek advice from your advisor and topic experts on appropriate survey format and length. This varies by subject and test population.
  • Keep your survey as short as possible.
  • During the survey design stage, consider how you will analyze collected responses.
  • Talk with a statistician before you collect data to determine the minimum number of valid responses you need to test your hypothesis.
  • Pilot test your survey, in paper format, before getting IRB approval and before having it coded into an online form.
  • Make sure to mark required questions as such.
  • Only mark questions as “required”  if they absolutely must be included in your data set. Too many required questions may discourage respondents and violates IRB privacy rules.
  • A “consent to participate“  question is normally included as the first page of an online research survey. (Example)
  • Alternatively, a “consent to participate”  statement can be included as part of the emailed invitation to potential respondents. If they agree (consent), then they click a link that goes to the survey.
  • Consider including an incentive for respondents who complete your survey. (Example)
    • An incentive could be extra credit in a class, a chance to win a prize (enter a drawing), or a reward given to every respondent. Review the ISU policies for incentives and compensation.
    • Many people will not complete a survey unless they perceive some direct benefit to themselves.
    • The incentive offer must be included in the survey that is submitted for IRB approval.
    • Place incentive questions on the last page of the survey to encourage survey completion, or as a second linked survey.
    • If offering an incentive, you must ask respondents explicitly for their contact information (e.g. name and email address) within the survey – the survey software does not automatically collect user identity.
    • Indicate in your survey whether respondents contact information will be separated from their responses.
    • CHS ODL staff can separate identifying data from your results and give you separate files if you require it.
    • Clearly label incentive participation as “optional” within the survey.
    • Indicate whether the survey needs to be completely answered in order to be eligible for the incentive.


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