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Your Paper-based Data Collection Options Just Got Better

If your mission is to discover answers to objectives, improve performance, or find new ideas and create improvements, then you may need to conduct research and produce statistical analysis to support your mission. In order to do so, you may be faced with the challenge of data capturing from paper surveys and if you don’t choose the right method for your project then you may end up being over budget or facing data quality challenges. To avoid this issue, we will help you review four options to capture data from paper questionnaires, and ultimately, choose the best one for your project. You may be surprised with option 4.

Option 1 – Manual key entry by human operators. 

This option is great for small volumes. Manually entering data into digital format, usually through spreadsheets, can quickly become a time consuming and tedious task. Typically, if you have more than 500 surveys – you will likely be better off automating the data collection, but it really depends on the length of the survey. Manual key entry by human operators is also very prone to errors and many times you will have to use double key entry to ensure accuracy which  will double your labor costs.

Option 2 – Purchasing and maintaining data collection software.

This option can get very costly depending on the number of surveys that you process annually. A decent standalone software that has ICR and OCR capabilities, will be around $15,000 plus you will have to pay for annual support which is typically 18-20% of the cost each year. However, if you have high volume (even just for short periods of time) or need a networked system, it can quickly add up to more than $100,000. This also doesn’t cover the cost of the servers, employees that need to learn and use the software, etc. It adds up very quickly and only makes sense if you are processing hundreds of thousands or a million plus images annually. In short, purchasing and maintaining data collection software can require high initial spend, technical know-how, staff training, and ongoing support cost that is unlikely to be reasonable for a one-time project.

Option 3 – Utilize a service bureau.

This is a great option if you only have a couple of projects a year, or if you just don’t want to manage the process. Just make sure that you understand the bureau’s processes and that they align with your expectations. Does your survey have PII or PHI? If it does, what are their security measures when it comes to your data? Are they using overseas resources? Are their employees trained with HIPAA, are they compliant with HITRUST or any other privacy compliance that you require? Make sure you utilize a service bureau that has the data collection methods, technology, security, and experience to process your research surveys and deliver precise results based on your coding and output specifications.

Option 4 – Rent the software

With the advances in technology, DataForce is able to offer the option for you to remotely and securely scan your surveys into our data collection software that is available to you on a month-to-month, or project-to-project basis. You are able to scan your surveys locally using the “rented” software and any image scanner. You can either use your staff or the bureau’s staff to do the verification. (Verification is reviewing fields that fall out of tolerance so the human operator can apply the established rules.) Using a data collection software on a short-term basis, paper-based data collection becomes pretty painless and you only pay for the images that are processed. When a software rental option is utilized, you can select the most appropriate data capture methodologies and processes to complete your survey project on time and in budget.

DataForce will provide you with the training, survey scanning software, and support to gather the information your organization needs in the convenience of your own premises. No long term commitments or costly annual maintenance Learn how!

The Most Important Skillsets for In-House Survey Projects

If you are planning to effectively and efficiently handle a large-scale survey project in-house, knowing the questions you want to ask your target respondents is only the beginning. You also need to have access to a wide range of specialized skillsets. This is because practical considerations are certain to arise throughout the project that will require smart planning based on experience.

Here is a quick overview of a few of the most important skillsets involved in completing a large-scale survey project in-house.

Survey Design Skills

The core objective of your survey project is to obtain answers to questions that will help you analyze the thoughts, beliefs, actions, or experiences of your respondent population. To reach that objective, you must compose questions that will elicit useful responses.

During the survey design stage, it is important to consider more than the research objectives of your survey. There are other practical considerations relating to the efficiency of the project. Page count is an excellent example. If your survey is very complex or has so many questions that it must be printed in a large, multi-page booklet, you are jeopardizing the success of your project.

Large booklets create enormous challenges. They are difficult to design, print, and distribute. Additionally, they require extra effort to dismantle and collate so that they can be processed through your data extraction system. The greater the number of pages, the greater the complexity and room for error.

Graphic Design Skills

Another important skillset is graphic design. Your in-house designer must be proficient in Adobe InDesign, which is the most popular software for laying out surveys. Even though they may be a great graphic artist, their general skillset will only get them so far. They must also have experience in dealing with the many design choices that will impact your respondent’s experience while taking the survey as well as back-end quantitative data collection issues.

The layout of the survey must make it easy and intuitive for those completing the survey to fill in their responses. Even simple things like requesting a date of birth or phone number are a critical design issues. The choice to use a line to collect this information is problematic.

That’s because it is difficult for scanning software to read information formatted in a line with acceptable accuracy. The better design decision is to create a series of boxes that require respondents to place one letter or number in each box. This design option encourages respondents to write neatly. It also results in a more legible survey that is easier to review manually.

Printing Skills

The design of the survey affects the complexity of printing the survey. Remember that one of your goals is to automate data collection. Therefore, issues such as the number of pages, the layout of each page, and the placement of design elements are extremely important. For projects that require optical mark recognition (OMR), barcodes, or pre-slugging for accurate survey scanning and tracking, small printing errors have big consequences.

Logistics Skills

Managing the distribution, collection, and storage of your surveys presents an enormous logistical challenge. Once you’ve printed your surveys and support materials, you must then assemble the survey packets and distribute them to your respondents. You must also be prepared to receive the surveys when they are returned. The logistics skills involved include collating, packaging, labeling, addressing, bulk mailing, return-mail handling, warehousing, inventory tracking, and follow-up mailings.

Data Extraction Skills

Assuming that you have the necessary OMR and image-scanning equipment in place, you’ll also need to follow strict quality control measures to ensure the accuracy of your data. The data extraction process requires reliable data output formats, tables and rules, exceptions, electronic verification, manual verification, and image indexing to facilitate easy search and retrieval.

Do You Have Access to All of the Skillsets You Need?

As you prepare for your large-scale survey project, consider making a thorough assessment of your team’s skillsets. If you don’t have easy access to all of the skills you need to complete your project effectively and efficiently, it’s time to search for a partner that can help. Doing so will help your organization maximize its return on investment in time and money.

For more information on paper scanning servicesforms processing services or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!


Overcoming Survey Budgeting Challenges

Establishing a budget for your survey project is challenging. There are many facets to consider. It’s tempting to pull a number out of the air that sounds reasonable and then fit the costs for your survey within that pre-determined budget.

That’s an easy way to set your budget. But, it’s far from the best way.

It’s more effective for you to meet your budgeting challenges head-on. Take the time you need to consider your survey objectives and the costs associated with each step of the project. Only then will you be confident that your budget supports the success of your project.

Work Backwards from Your Expected Response Rate
Your expected response rate is an important budget driver. It impacts your sample size as well as the number of surveys you’ll need to distribute to your targeted respondents. As you know, your response rate will vary based on several factors. A few of these include:

• Questionnaire length
• The complexity of the questions
• The importance respondents place on the survey
• Availability of incentives
• The level of personalization

Every survey project is different. However, every project benefits from achieving the highest response rate possible. Here is an overview of a few factors that influence both your budget and your response rate.

Buying Lists

If you don’t already possess a list of targeted respondents, you’ll need to purchase one. The size of your list will depend on how large of a sample size you need as well as your expected response rate.

Printing Survey Materials

The costs associated with printing your survey materials represent a significant portion of your budget. Consequently, printing is a good area to focus on in your attempt to control costs. Depending on the needs of your project, you can make printing decisions that could result in spending as little as five cents or as much as five dollars per survey. How many copies you need to print is one factor. The aesthetics of those surveys is another factor. You can print one, two, three, or four-color surveys. You must also decide on the number of pages, binding, and the weight of the paper. Every decision affects your costs.

Multiple Mailings

Depending on the methodology of your project, it may be beneficial to conduct multiple mailings. Mailing survey packets, follow-up post cards, and replacement survey packets add to your overall cost. You must be careful to balance your expenses with the impact you believe each mailing will have on boosting your response rate.

Consider Offering Incentives
To reduce printing costs and expenses associated with multiple mailings, you should consider offering an incentive to increase your response rate. Research in this area has shown that incentives can double response rates. If you choose to offer incentives, you’ve created another budgetary challenge. First, the price of the incentive increases your budget. Second, research shows that you can expect diminishing returns. So, you must be careful to choose an incentive value that balances cost and effectiveness.

Build Your Budget Around Your Survey
The best approach to overcoming your survey budgeting challenges is to base your budget on the cumulative projected costs of your survey. That’s because you’ll be starting with a clear view of your survey objectives and you can decide how to reach them based on the actual costs of your many options. If you instead start with a specific budget amount, you may find that you’ve picked a dollar figure that bears no practical relationship to your survey objectives. By constraining yourself with a budget at the outset, you shift your focus away from what matters most.

To help you build your budget around your survey, it is crucial that you consult with your survey partner early and often. Your partner will not only provide you with cost information, they will also offer recommendations that will help you save money while achieving your goals.

By |2019-03-20T11:11:29+00:00March 7th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

Good, Fast, Cheap – Pick Two

The other day I got into a heated discussion with a colleague about this quote. You can Google it and it will return 100’s of pages and images. It appears that there are even businesses that post signs, telling their customers they can only have two.

In my humble opinion, any organization that communicates and/or promotes this quote is preparing you, the consumer, to either:

a. Be prepared to pay a lot (Fast/Good)

b. To be able to say “I told you so” when it didn’t go so well (Fast/Cheap)

c. Have the perfect excuse as to why your product/project is 2 weeks over due (Cheap/Good)

Personally, I would never do business with someone that would put themselves into a box. I think we should always be striving for the ‘impossible’ utopia.

Don’t get me wrong, if you are looking for a Cadillac with a Pinto budget; you will never be happy. Make sure that are you working with a vendor that you trust, understands your objectives – if you don’t trust them to give you sound advice; it is time for a change. The right relationship shouldn’t feel like a customer/vendor relationship; it should be a partnership.

Don’t limit yourself, we should always be thinking outside of the box on how to do things better, faster and more efficiently.

Choosing the Right Sample Size

Choosing the right sample size is vital to accurate survey outcomes. With the right number of survey respondents, your target population will be represented with acceptable accuracy.  Although it may seem like a simple undertaking, you must put a lot of thought into determining your survey’s most effective sample size.

In most cases, the larger your sample size, the more confident you can be that the responses you receive reflect the total target population. However, there is another side to that coin. Deciding on a larger sample size requires you to distribute more surveys, and that drives up the cost of your survey project.  

It’s not as simple as randomly selecting a large sample size and assuming that will equate to successful response rates. The pitfall of using no forethought when selecting a sample size is that you may select a sample that is not statistically significant or will cause you to exceed your budget. To arrive at your optimum sample size, you must start by asking a few key questions.

1. How Large Is Your Target Population?

Choosing the Right Sample Size - How large is Your Target Population

You can begin to understand your sample size needs by first determining the size of the total population of possible respondents. If you want to understand something more large-scale, such as how grocery shoppers are using mobile devices, you will need to use a larger sample size. That’s because there are millions of grocery shoppers who use mobile devices. On the other hand, if you want to assess a smaller, more specific group, such as the opinions of the faculty at a particular university, the population is limited to a few thousand or even a few hundred.

2. How Accurate Do You Need to Be in Choosing the Right Sample Size?

Because you are only using a small sample group out of a larger target population, you must now make some decisions about accuracy. Your accuracy will depend on choosing an acceptable margin of error and accepted confidence level.  

Your margin of error measures how well the responses from your sample reflect the opinions of your entire target population. A commonly chosen margin of error is 5%. You must also keep in mind that lower margins of error require a larger sample size.

Your confidence level represents the degree to which your sample is an accurate sample of the population. If you decide your project requires a 95% confidence level, you are declaring that if you repeated your survey, you would get the same results 95% of the time. Higher confidence levels require a larger sample size.

3. What Is Your Expected Response Rate?

Arriving at an answer to the first two questions is relatively straightforward. First, determine the size of your target population. Then decide how accurate you want your survey results to be.

Now, on to the challenging part: estimating what your response rate will be. Estimating your response rate is often difficult; there are many factors that contribute to a respondent’s decision to complete and return your survey. The list of factors includes:

    • Questionnaire length
    • Question complexity
    • Importance of the survey to the respondent
    • Level of respondent interest in the survey
    • Availability of incentives

Fortunately, you are in control of most of these factors. Depending on your target population and the decisions you make about how you will administer your survey, your response rate can range from 1% to 60%. Lower expected response rates require a larger sample size.

For more tips on Survey Design, check our blog post on How to Write Great Survey Questions

Working with an Experienced Survey Administration Partner in Choosing the Right Sample Size

Your sample size has a direct impact on the validity and cost of your survey. Consequently, it’s crucial that you get that number right. Once you have determined the right sample size for your survey, there’s still more work to do. How will you distribute the surveys? How will you gather them and analyze the outcomes?  

This is where your survey administration partner can add value to the process. When you work with an experienced vendor, they can consult with you about the nature of your survey research and suggest choices that will help you achieve your goals in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Your partner can help you measure your target population and decide on an appropriate margin of error and confidence level. In addition—although no two survey projects are ever exactly alike—your partner can rely on their experience with working with a wide range of organizations and projects to help predict what your response rate might be.

When you are planning your next survey project—and trying to understand your optimal sample size—consider getting help from an experienced survey administration partner.

If you’d like more information on incentives, project consulting services, survey research services, incentive fulfillment or survey mailing services in general, contact us today!

By |2019-05-24T19:47:16+00:00March 6th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

4 Ways to Reduce Vendor Management Challenges

Successful survey projects rely on a wide range of specialized skills and technologies. Because very few organizations have the capabilities to handle the entire survey administration in-house, it is typically necessary to outsource the work to multiple vendors.

Depending on the complexity of your project, the number of vendors you may need to manage can range from a handful to dozens.

Your basic list of tasks to outsource can include:

  • Graphic design
  • Printing
  • Document tracking
  • Fulfillment and mailing
  • Warehousing
  • Data extraction

That’s just the beginning.

The more complex the project, the more vendors you’ll need to coordinate. For instance, if you are offering cash incentives, you’ll need to work with a bank. If your project requires special items such as containers for samples, selecting and managing your growing group of vendors becomes an even greater challenge.

How to Choose a Reliable Vendor

Regardless of the number of vendors you’ll be managing, you need a process for selecting a vendor that you can rely on to help you complete your project as efficiently as possible. Here are three important considerations when selecting vendors for your survey project.

Ask for References, and Call Them

Be sure to ask each vendor for at least two current references as well as a reference from a recent customer that is no longer working with them. Then call them.

When you call the current references, ask them about the vendor’s capabilities, customer service, responsiveness, and reputation for meeting deadlines. If there are any red flags, identify them before contracting with the vendor.

It’s likely that the vendor will put you in contact with current references that are satisfied with their service. But calling a vendor’s former customer gives you an even better perspective, particularly if that customer is less than two years old. When you speak with a former customer, you can dig deeper. They may still give a glowing reference, but it will be more objective.

Monitor Each Vendor’s Financials

You don’t want your survey project to fall apart because one of your vendors suddenly goes out of business. To help avoid a surprise like this, be sure to request a copy of each vendor’s audited financials and review them closely. If you work with the same vendor for many years, take the time to compare their financials year over year. Negative trends will alert you to future problems and give you time to discuss your concerns with the vendor or begin the process of searching for a more financially stable vendor.

After You Select a Vendor, Stick with Them

Selecting the right collection of vendors for your survey project requires an enormous amount of time and effort. Once you’ve found a vendor that meets all of your needs, it is important that you stick with them.

Ideally, you want to build a long-term relationship with your vendors so that they understand how your organization works and they can become a valuable and loyal resource. Whenever you change vendors, you lose that loyalty and have to start the relationship-building process all over again.

Choose One Partner Than Can Handle Your Entire Survey Project

As the number of required vendors rises, the time and effort necessary to orchestrate the activities of multiple vendors will increase outsourcing costs, and strain your resources. One of the key decisions you must make when planning your next survey project is whether to work with multiple vendors, or to select a partner that can handle all aspects of the survey administration process.

By selecting a partner that can act as your single point of contact throughout the project, you’ll save time and money. You’ll avoid having to go through an exhaustive selection process to narrow down the field of vendors for each component of your survey. You’ll also escape the headaches involved with coordinating interactions between each vendor.

Even though your partner may not be able to internally handle all of the tasks your survey research requires, you can rely on them to manage any necessary sub-vendors. Your partner will already have relationships with vendors they trust, and they will have worked out effective processes for coordinating the complex logistics involved with managing multiple vendors.

An effective survey administration partner is flexible enough to offer you the exact services you need. After consulting with you, they must be able to tailor their services and the administration process to the precise needs of your project.

When faced with the frustrations of managing multiple vendors, choosing a single, experienced survey administration partner is the solution to your vendor management

If you’d like more information on project consulting services or data capture services in general, contact us today!


By |2019-03-20T11:21:10+00:00January 11th, 2017|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

Paper Surveys Are So Yesterday – NOT!

Around 2008 we witnessed research funding being all but eliminated. In response, organizations who still needed data to drive day to day decision making, turned to free online survey tools. In addition, postage costs continued to increase year over year to mail paper surveys. This further solidified organizations transitioning to an online platform.

Now, let’s fast forward to current day. We are seeing a transition back to paper surveys – but why, when online administration reports that it is the most cost-efficient mode (more on this later)? The instant gratification of getting responses within hours of distributing make it very difficult to consider going back to paper.

Why are we seeing a transition back to paper? There are a variety of reasons for our clients:

1. Response rates are really low compared to paper surveys.

a. The competition in getting a respondent’s attention in their “in-box”. People are getting so many emails today, they focus on the ones that they know and/or are expecting.

b. People are afraid of clicking on links from people that they don’t know.

c. Many email providers are now sorting emails which may increase the chances of the respondent never seeing your communication.

2. Online panel sample.

a. There is a lot of controversy with online panel sample.

b. The costs associated with a panel can be more expensive than paper surveys.

3. Many researchers are going back to address-based sampling. And yes, you can pay to try and tie phone numbers and email addresses to the sample, but this process is very costly and not always reliable.

Think about this, when is the last time you looked at a Kohl’s ad electronically? Now, think about the last time you were mailed an ad that has that hidden discount that you need to peel to reveal? I know for me, I will go looking for that electronic Kohl’s ad if I need to go there. But when I get it in the mail and reveal that 30% off – now I will make an excuse to go buy something.

My point here is that getting the attention of a respondent is much more likely when using paper surveys that are well-designed because there is not as much competition in a person’s mailbox as there is with their inbox. A lot of people are getting their bills electronically which further reduces the competition in their mailbox.

Remember when we would log into AOL and got excited when we heard “You’ve Got Mail!”? Today many of us dread opening our inboxes, and people are getting excited when they receive physical mail.

If you’d like more information on multi-modal data collection or survey mailing services in general, contact us today!



DataForce is the preferred partner for managing cost-effective, practical, and on-time solutions for:

– Data capture (both manual and automated)
– Document imaging
– Printing
– Mailing and fulfillment
– Data delivery and management
By |2019-03-20T11:22:25+00:00January 11th, 2017|Survey Mailing Services|0 Comments
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