For human rights NGOs today, effective advocacy is often complemented by survey data. Thankfully, modern technology offers individuals and NGOs a wide range of options for conducting survey research. YouTube, online tools and instructional websites make it look straightforward. However, conducting a legitimate survey and properly assessing the data can be challenging, especially if you don’t know where to start. This article will lay out key tips and tricks for setting up and starting a survey.

Getting Started

  • Step 1 – Identifying your quantitative research question
  • Step 2 – Identifying a sample pool
  • Step 3 – Why is sample size important?
  • Step 4 – Choosing the correct survey style

Step Three: Why is sample size important?

Once you have chosen your sample population, the next step is to calculate the sample size. A mistake often made is assuming that everyone in the sample chosen will show up and participate in the survey Calculating the Right Survey Sample Size. Picking the right survey size helps assess the survey’s confidence level/interval and margin of error.For a survey to be considered ‘successful’, the confidence level should ideally be 95% and the margin of error 5%.

For example, if you are targeting a sample pool of 1,000 people affected by human rights abuses, then you can be confident that around 300 people will participate in the survey. The remaining 700 people may or may not participate. Furthermore, it can be predicted that around 100 will not participate due to unforeseen circumstances.

The most important insight to remember when choosing a sample size is that no number is too large. The more people who participate (fitting the respondent criteria), the stronger the data will be.

However, if the sample size is too low, the confidence level is lower than 95%, and the margin of error higher than 5%, then the effectiveness of the survey will also be compromised. This does not allow you to draw confident conclusions about your findings.

Step Four: Choosing the correct survey style

Once you are satisfied with your research question(s) and sample population, the only step left is to choose a survey that fits your question and survey method to ensure the highest turnout of respondents. A more detailed description of survey types can be found here.

When conducting a survey, a general rule to remember is that survey questions should be designed so that they both fit with what your survey is trying to answer and make sense to the sample pool. A more detailed description of question types can be found in an upcoming article on types of questions.

It is also important to take into consideration cultural differences when designing survey. If you are a native English speaker, or do not speak the local language of your sample population, then you need to take extra care to ensure the meaning of your questionnaire is accurately translated.

Floyd J.Fowler Jr, Survey Research Methods, 5th ed. (Center for Survey Research, University of Massachusetts:SAGE Publications, 2013), 3-4.

Last Updated: April 28, 2018

Author: Haley Joy Herbig