Part Two Contents
A. Surveys on the Internet
Email and WWW
B. Experiments C. Search Engines and Databases

experiments and research
Internet surveys
There are at least two ways to conduct surveys on the
Internet: using email and using forms on the WWW. Before discussing those two methods let me make a methodological acknowledgment. There is no way either an email or a WWW survey could meet acceptable standards for random sampling of subjects, with the possible exception of a survey dealing with email or WWW usage, and even then a kilo or two of salt would be necessary to interpret findings. "Internauts" are still a minuscule minority and a vastly unrepresentative minority at that. Anyone intent upon skewing an Internet survey could easily do so, and the unintended misfirings of "newbies" would skew findings even more. Nevertheless, there is still a role for email and WWW surveys in conducting research.

If studies based on unrepresentative samples were excluded
from social science research, whole sections of library shelves would begin to look like supermarkets in the former Soviet Union. Such rigorous standards would require that we exclude all surveys relying upon college student subject pools. While that prospect has more than just a little appeal, when viewed in context, and when not relied upon exclusively, student subject pools serve a useful purpose: they allow us to pre-test survey instruments, gain preliminary assessments of the utility of our hypotheses, and last, but not least, tap a cheap, captive, compliant, resource---our own students.

While all the same criticisms and more can be applied to
Internet surveys, there are several advantages to Internet surveys that make them potentially even more useful than student surveys. Internet surveys can 1) be cheaper (no paper, no stamps, no interviewer or survey proctor salaries, and no phone charges--yes, our home institutions pay access charges for the Internet, but they do so whether we use email and the Web or not); 2) include a much wider range of subjects in terms of age, occupation, geography, and education; 3) be collected from a much larger number of people; and 4) be coordinated across a much wider range of institutions much more easily than traditional student surveys. Used in context, therefore, there is a role for Internet surveys in social science research.

Email Surveys

There is really nothing fundamentally different in conducting
an email survey as compared to the standard mail survey. Although I know of no studies of this issue (doesn't mean there aren't any), my prediction is that you will find a higher response rate to email surveys than is the case with mail surveys since the comparative costs of responding are less. The delete button is a bit closer than the waste paper basket, but the reply option takes much less effort than a trip to the post office.

To increase the likelihood that a subject will respond to an
email survey, the survey must make it easy for the subject to answer each item, and the items should be kept to the absolute bare minimum. Provide space between each question for the response, and keep all the introductory material brief and to the point. Otherwise, everything that applies to mail surveys applies to email surveys. The "trick" to email surveys is finding acceptable ways to get your survey to potential subjects.

In the realm of email, nothing is more annoying than spamming.
Stepping over the line between an email survey and a spam is easy to do. Under no circumstances should you post an email survey to a list without first consulting the list owner and gaining permission. Likewise, it is probably best to check with your academic computing staff about their policy concerning the use of student or faculty email lists for a survey. To broaden your survey, check with colleagues who might be willing to forward your survey to a list on their campus. You could certainly use a professional email list such as POL-PSYCH list to solicit collaborators in such a project. A useful way to find suitable lists to search for possible collaborators is discussed in Lesson 6 of Crispin's Internet roadmap.[9]

Assuming, then, you gain permission to post to a list or use
your own and colleagues' academic-based mail lists, be sure that the "reply to" address is your own address, NOT the list address and NOT the person who may have forwarded the survey for you. Also be sure that in the survey itself you tell the subjects to use the "reply to" option, not the reply to sender option, if there is one in their email application.

WWW Surveys

Spamming is not a problem with WWW surveys since a
person must voluntarily arrive at your website in order to encounter the survey and need do nothing but move on to the next site or back to the last site to avoid the survey. The problem with Web surveys is getting people to your website, then getting them to go to the trouble of answering the survey. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that you can make the survey attractive enough, well-known enough, and brief enough to generate much of a response, and therefore it is unlikely the WWW will prove particularly useful as a survey instrument.

There are ways, however, to get more traffic running over a
survey and to get some value from a Web survey. One way to increase traffic is place the survey on many sites. It will take effort, but as more and more colleagues find their way onto the Web, we can begin to dedicate space to "shared research". A section of our personal webpages could be set aside for collaborative surveys or experiments. It will be impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of a single person taking the survey more than once, but there are techniques to prevent casual returnees from submitting another response. Committed ballot stuffers can never be completely barred and since many Web citizens operate from shared machines, existing security methods will bar at least some people who might want to respond from responding. The limits of Web surveys should therefore never be underestimated.

Another way to increase traffic over a Web survey is to pay to
put the survey on a heavily used commercial site. Many sites get tens of thousands of "hits" per day and even if less than one percent bother to check the survey and respond, that could result in a rather large amount of data, albeit not data of the highest quality.

Assuming, then, that you still want to try to put a survey on
the Web, how is it done? Putting a survey onto the Web involves the same techniques as putting an exam on the Web or providing response forms for a Web experiment. In the teaching section below, I have provided a template that can be used to create any variety of survey forms. These templates are by no means comprehensive, nor definitive, but they will get you on your way with little effort after you have mastered the very basic elements of writing HTML. For information on constructing a survey, go to "Online Test Taking", in section III, part C.

experiments on the Web

The Web has far more potential as an experimental resource
than it has as a support for survey instruments. Still, great caution must be taken interpreting results since most of the same subject pool problems exist. Since valid experimental results can be produced with far fewer numbers of subjects than is the case with surveys, the WWW can be used in creative ways in controlled circumstances to produce far more diverse and representative samples than is often the case in a university setting. With the help of collaborators at other institutions it would be possible to expose several small subject pools to simultaneous experimental manipulations over the WWW.

For example, it is not difficult to imagine conducting an
experiment dealing with a candidate's physical appearance using exactly the same stimuli under comparable circumstances on three different continents simultaneously. Small subject pools could be gathered at several locations in Great Britain, the U.S. and New Zealand and directed to a Web site with the experimental material. Half the subjects at each location would be given one url, and half another. Written campaign material would be identical, the only differences being party attributions according to location, but the accompanying graphic material could be manipulated such that candidates independently judged as more "attractive", or more "charismatic" would be shown to half the subjects as "conservative" candidates and to the other half as "liberal" candidates. The graphic material could be either photographs embedded in Webpages, or short video clips also embedded in Webpages. Subjects would then answer questions on the Webpage and post the responses to the investigator.

Naturally, such an experiment could be done without the
WWW. Using the WWW, however, has several advantages. First, such a Web experiment would be far less costly than producing and shipping video and graphic material to several sites. Second, the conditions of exposure at each setting can be better controlled since the same Web site would transmit the material and instructions. Third, the collection of data from far flung sites is virtually instantaneous. Fourth, the subject pools can be far more culturally diverse than the general experimental subject pool. While none of these advantages will revolutionize the conduct of social science inquiry, the advantages are sufficient to warrant development of methods for conducting experiments on the WWW. For the details of placing such material on the Website, go to "Online Test Taking", in section III, part C.

search engines and databases

By far the most important ways to use the Internet for
research purposes is to gather information, consult primary sources, and share databases. In this section of the workshop we will go through the basics of searching the Internet and visit several sites with databases.

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