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So far Damon Young has created 13 blog entries.

What is the difference between First Class and Standard Class Mail?

One of the most common questions in Mail Survey budgeting is the kind of postage to use. Depending on your survey you may be able to cut on cost by using standard instead of first-class mail, however, think about this carefully, as you risk lowering survey response and reducing data quality. To help you decide, we’ve identified some key differences between the two. Choose the best one to fit your project.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) processes mail based on the mail type. The following are the most common types of mail. 

  •  Express Mail – Typically overnight services
  •  Priority Mail – Guaranteed delivery in 1-3 days depending on location
  •  First Class Mail
  •  Standard/Bulk Class Mail

Difference between First Class and Standard Class Mail


First Class Presort

First Class mail will be delivered in 1-2 days for local addresses and nationally; all of it should be delivered in about 4-5 days. If your party has moved and submitted a change of address with USPS, your mail will be forwarded at no cost for a period of 1 year. If it’s undeliverable, it will be returned at no cost with the reason why it could not be delivered.

The mail file must have at least 500 records, be NCOA address updated, CASS certified, and put in presort order before being delivered to the postal service. Typical savings off of list rates depend on the zip code sort; you can expect to save 10-20%. 


Standard Class (formerly known as Bulk Mail)

There is a significant saving using Standard Class mail (aka Bulk mail). Standard mail is processed by the USPS on a “time available” basis. There is NO guaranteed delivery time, only “typicals.” Local mail is typically delivered in about 3-6 workdays, and national mail can be 1-3 weeks. Sometimes it’s faster, and other times it’s slower. Just remember there is no guarantee, and mail is processed as they have time. In our experience, we see longer delays around the holidays. 


  • The “pros”: It’s the least expensive postage mode, almost half the price of 1st class, which enables you to mail a higher volume for less. It also allows up to 3.3 ounces, all for the same low postage rate.  


  • The “cons”: Due to the delivery time, NEVER use Standard mail if you have a rapidly approaching event or expiration date. Standard mail is not forwarded and usually not returned if undeliverable. It merely goes into the USPS recycling bin. Standard Class mail requires a minimum of 250 pieces to qualify for these rates.


Partner with DataForce

Managing a mail survey project can be overwhelming when you have different vendors to deal with. Streamline your project by partnering with a data collection expert that can handle all your needs. Our one-source solution is uniquely designed to align with your organization’s mission at the strategic level while saving you time, risk, and money! For more information on data collection or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!

By |2020-05-24T19:21:21+00:00May 24th, 2020|Survey Mailing Services|0 Comments

3 Tips to Streamline Your Survey Return Schedule

Effective mail surveys are typically planned and executed like a well-choreographed dance routine that must have all dancers hitting their mark at the right place and the right time. Every step in the sequence – from printing and mailing to fulfillment and data collection services – must be optimized for a streamlined performance.

One step that requires particular attention is the timing and management of survey returns. Survey return management depends on factors outside your control, including the timing of respondents’ completing the surveys and the postal service delivering the returns. This relative blind spot also creates challenges in staffing. You can imagine the wasted cost in staffing a team to process more than 10,000 returns while facing unexpected survey return delays.

As a leading provider of mail surveys, we help researchers plan for and anticipate potential risks and/or delays before they happen. Here is what we found are the best ways to streamline your survey return schedule:


1. Set an Appropriate Response Time Window

Survey response time is driven by several factors:

  • Interest Level A high-interest topic and a short survey could see returns in as little as a few days, whereas others can take as many as one to two weeks. Being mindful of this will help you set reasonable timeline expectations. 
  • In-home Date Depending on your mail delivery method (standard vs. express), your respondents may receive the survey in-home in as little as a few days or as long as 1 week or more. Consider in-home receipt as part of your timeline window.
  • Return By Date A clearly communicated “complete/return by” date should be printed on the survey materials so that respondents have a deadline.
  • Holidays – Holiday mail takes longer to be both delivered and returned. Respondents also tend to put off completing their surveys during holidays as distractions abound. If you must send out your surveys during a holiday, allow extra time for returns. We typically recommend a 3-4 week return window for most surveys, and 5-6 weeks during holidays, to ensure participants have enough time to consider and complete their surveys.


Survey Return Schedule

Survey Return Schedule

(3 mailings, $2 pre-incentive, $40 promised incentive)


2. Don’t Jump the Gun on Subsequent Mailings

During your response window, you will notice that the number of responses starts to taper off. While you may be eager to move on to your next mailing, we recommend waiting for any late responses because of the impact it will have on subsequent mailings. As you can see from the 2nd graph above, the 2nd mailing was sent when the response rate reached its lowest. This is to provide the follow-up mailings a revised file of respondent names and addresses before going into production – which can take up to a week or more (depending on the level of printing and assembly required). In so doing you can account for people’s replies from the first mailing and avoid sending them follow-up mailings for a survey they just completed!


3. Minimize Post Office Delay

There are specific steps you can take before the returns come in that will help you streamline and expedite the process: 

  • Make sure there is enough money in your business reply account – If you overlook this step, you likely won’t hear about it until after the envelopes have piled up at the post office, and someone gets around to contacting you, costing you valuable time and energy.
  • Make sure your dedicated postal worker is not on vacation – It happens more often than you would think. Postal workers are given various assignments, and there is typically an employee dedicated to handling your company’s reply mail. We recommend you call the post office to ensure that a dedicated staff member will indeed be working on your assignment during your response window.

Survey response mail is among the most exciting yet uncertain parts of survey management. By following these tips, you’ll be better able to estimate your timeline, minimize risk, and account for all of your survey responses.

For more information on survey fulfillment services or any aspect of mail survey management, contact us today!


By |2020-03-30T19:31:31+00:00February 27th, 2020|Survey Mailing Services, Survey Research Services|0 Comments

8 Common Survey Bias Errors and How to Avoid Them

When done correctly, surveys are the golden key in social science research – helping us uncover the attitudes and behaviors of a target population like no other platform. As with all scientific research, however, they are susceptible to bias. Bias is a sneaky, subtle characteristic that can creep into any part of your research in the form of leading questions, skewed sample selection, respondent social pressures, and more. In fact, bias is so prevalent in our everyday lives, it is often difficult to spot. 

A primary goal of research is to minimize bias – if not entirely eliminate it. In so doing, results can be trusted as an honest reflection of the attitudes and behaviors of the total target population. Thankfully, survey science has been around a long time and the most common biases are well documented. 

As a leading provider of mail and multi-modal surveys, we help research professionals avoid bias every day. Following are the 8 most common data capture services survey bias errors we encounter, with helpful tips on how to avoid them. 

1. Social Desirability Bias

Respondents have a propensity to answer questions in a way that makes them look good according to social norms. Such topics as taking care of the environment, spending time with one’s children, etc., are ripe for socially acceptable responses that don’t quite match up with reality. This also applies to group norms as well, such as attending church, exercising and more. 

How to avoid it: Don’t use yes or no questions for these topics. Have respondents select from alternatives or use a ranking or rating scale. 


2. Acquiescence Bias

Respondents tend to agree and give a “yes” response to most questions, especially if they haven’t given the topic much thought before. For example, would you want your washing machine to have more preset options? Sure, why not. Next question.

How to avoid it: Don’t use yes or no questions for these topics. Have respondents select from alternatives or use a ranking or rating scale. 

3. Question Order Bias

Question order matters. Among the most common culprits of question order bias is “letting the cat out of the bag” too soon. For example, if you are doing a brand awareness survey and mention your brand name too early, you will inadvertently affect how people rate their familiarity with your brand on subsequent questions. This also holds true for response option order. A respondent might remember a choice that appeared in an earlier question and be more likely to select that response on later questions. 

How to avoid it: Use a logical question sequence that goes from general to specific. Manage response order with randomization.

4. Habituation Bias

When a series of questions are worded similarly or use a similar structure, respondents tend to answer in a less engaging way. Instead, many spot the pattern and go on autopilot to get through the survey with minimal energy. This adversely affects data quality, as respondents do not give each question the consideration it deserves. 

How to avoid it: Vary question-wording and keep it conversational. 

5. Sponsorship Bias

When respondents know who commissioned the survey, it can influence responses. Their existing feelings and opinions about the brand or organization can taint even the most general questions in the survey. This is particularly troublesome in product surveys. 

How to avoid it: Do not use any logos on the invitation, survey form or any other collateral. Declare that the survey is being moderated independently of any brand or organization.


6. Confirmation Bias

This bias occurs on the researcher side when the survey itself is conducted to confirm a hypothesis, rather than simply gauge opinion. It is particularly common in political circles. Such researchers will give extra weight to responses that confirm their belief, and dismiss evidence to the contrary. In many cases, they will pose leading questions, such as “Don’t you agree that taxes are too high?” rather than a more neutral “Which of the following describes your view on taxes?”  Confirmation bias is a natural human phenomenon, and is not always easy to spot, even within ourselves. It is simply part of the way we process and evaluate information in our daily lives.

How to avoid it: Do not use leading questions. Continually reevaluate responses and challenge them against your preconceptions.


7. Culture Bias

Our own cultural experience influences our thoughts and assumptions about other cultures, which can cause unintended bias in research. This phenomenon, known as ethnocentrism, is defined as “judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture.” In some cases, the assumptions made can be downright offensive. 

How to avoid it:  Embrace the principle of cultural relativism – that an individual’s beliefs and activities should be understood and evaluated in terms of that individual’s own culture. Have unconditional positive regard and be mindful of their cultural assumptions, too. 


8. Halo Effect Bias

People have the tendency to hold an overall impression of something based on only one characteristic. This so-called halo effect can introduce bias on both the moderator and respondent side. For example, a moderator may make an assumption about a respondent-based on a first positive impression. A respondent may respond to a series of questions on a brand based solely on their feeling about one attribute.

How to avoid it: Choose question order carefully and stick to one topic at a time. Continually remind yourself why each question is being asked and hold off analysis until later.

While bias is an integral part of the human experience, it can be minimized in research to deliver an honest reflection of the attitudes and behaviors of your target population. By looking out for these common survey bias errors, you will be well on your way to survey success.

For more information on survey bias or any aspect of multi-modal data collection, contact us today!

By |2020-03-30T19:34:56+00:00January 28th, 2020|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

How to Pick the Right Respondents for Your Survey

In our blog on Choosing the right sample size”, we provided a formula to ensure your target population is represented accurately. Knowing that number early is important for determining your mail quantity and bidding out your project to vendors. However, it is only half the equation in survey sampling. The other half is making sure you pick the right people.  

So how do you choose the participants? 

1. Define Your Target Population

Before you can choose survey participants, you need to define the common binding characteristics or traits of the overall population. For example, “government employees” or “existing customers.” These are often combined with other characteristics: “government employees who use iPhones” or “existing customers who have utilized a particular service.” It is imperative to select the most appropriate target population to satisfy the objectives of the survey. 


2. Identify Your List Source

Some survey samples are easier to generate than others. For example, if you are surveying your existing customers, you likely already have everything you need in your company database. But if your target is “Latina women 25-40 who shop online,” you may have some work to do. In this case, you may want to look for available public data or purchase a list from a sample provider. Once you determine the list you need, then you become better positioned to choose a sampling method and pick your respondents. 


3. Choose a Sampling Method

There are many scientific ways to select a sample. They can be divided into two groups: probability and non-probability sampling. Probability sampling is any method that utilizes random selection like drawing straws or randomized computer selection. Everyone in a target group has an equal probability of being chosen. It is the preferred method of researchers because it accounts for bias and sampling error. 

But sometimes probability sampling is not feasible, either due to time constraints or list accessibility. In that case, non-probability sampling is used. People must still meet common binding criteria, but they are chosen in such places as a mall or a busy neighborhood. Such samples are often useful but don’t account as easily for bias and sampling error. 

Depending on the needs of your study, you will typically choose from one of the following common methods:

  1. Random SamplingThe purest form of probability sampling. The most basic example of this technique would be the lottery method.
  2. Stratified SamplingIdentifies a subset of the target population such as fathers, teachers, females, etc., and selects them at random.
  3. Systematic SamplingUses every Nth name in a target list, where N is a variable of your choosing.
  4. Convenience SamplingA non-probability method used when only a few members of the target population are available. 
  5. Quota SamplingUses subset criteria like stratified, but doesn’t randomize their selection. 
  6. Purposive Sampling A method that uses predefined criteria with a purpose in mind. For example, gauging the perceptions of Caucasian females between 30-40 years old on a new product but not randomize their selection.

Survey sampling is a critical part of data collection. Your survey provider can help you weigh these options for your survey to ensure you get the quality data you need. For more information on survey sampling or any aspect of mail survey management, contact us today!

By |2020-03-30T19:45:29+00:00January 13th, 2020|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

The Definitive Survey Design Checklist


In our previous blog, we outlined the basic principles of questionnaire design for writing great, effective survey questions. Of course, your overall survey design will include more than just the questions. You will also need to include a survey title, provide instructions and add a thank-you closing statement, as well as review and test the effectiveness of each element before launch. If only there were a simple survey design checklist to follow to ensure you didn’t miss anything.

Well, you’re in luck. We’ve created a handy checklist of all the essential elements to include in your survey, including style and content considerations. We present to you … the Definitive Survey Design Checklist:


____ Your survey objectives have been documented

____ You are clear on how you plan to use the data

Survey Design


____ Your survey has a clear title

____ You explain the purpose and importance of your survey

____ An estimate of survey duration and length of questionnaire is included

____ You included a confidentiality guarantee or ask permission to share their responses and identify with whom

____ You provided brief company background information

____ You referred to your survey incentive (if any) and provided information about it


____ The survey begins with a simple question

____ The questions go from general to specific

____ Sensitive questions appear toward the end of the survey

____ Sensitive questions include a “prefer not to answer option”

____ Demographic data appears at the end of the survey

____ Questions are organized by topic

____ All questions relate to your objectives

____ All questions are simple and concise

____ Jargon, acronyms and technical terms have been avoided

____ Response options include all possibilities, using “other” or “none” as necessary

____ The majority of questions are closed-ended for easier data analysis

____ Directions on how to answer are placed before each question

____ Rating scale questions include the rating scale before the question

____ Rating scale questions include a midpoint answer and an equal balance of positive and negative choices

____ Response options are placed vertically when possible, except for tabulated questions

____ Multiple choice questions display the most positive answer first

____ Open-ended questions are voluntary


____ You thanked your respondents

____ You offered them the possibility to receive the results (if possible)

____ You provided details on receiving the incentive

Final Review

____ You have sent the survey to colleagues or friends to validate wording and timing

____ You have pre-tested the survey by sending to a small group of respondents in the target population

____ The survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete

____ You have made appropriate revisions to address any issues uncovered

By following this guide, you will be well on your way to survey research success. For more information on survey design or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!




By |2019-03-20T10:48:48+00:00December 20th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

How to Write Great Survey Questions

When starting a survey project, most people look forward to the fun, creative part of writing the questions. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that writing great survey questions is not as easy as it looks. Questionnaire design is more science than art – requiring critical attention be paid to question and answer order, structure and phrasing to ensure you get the reliable, quality feedback you are looking for.

A simple question, such as “How much did you enjoy the program?” could wreak havoc in your results, because it is inherently biased towards a positive response. “How did you feel about the program?” would be a more effective approach. Other pitfalls include asking multi-part questions, having overlapping answer choices, or asking the more difficult questions too early.

But have no fear. Outlined below are the basic principles of questionnaire design, along with some helpful tips, that will have you writing great, effective survey questions in no time:

Before You can Start Writing Great Survey Questions 

    • Know your objectives. Write down the purpose of your survey scanning, what information you need, and how you plan to use the data.
  • Work backwards. Make a list of the specific answers you need first, and then use that to drive your questionnaire.

Basic Guidelines for Writing Great Survey Questions

    • Keep questions focused. Make sure each question is designed for specific feedback. Avoid double-barrel questions like “How do you feel about our products and services?” as some respondents will focus on products and others on services. Instead, separate them into two questions.
    • Put easier questions first. This will increase participation and establish trust. By getting comfortable with the survey research by answering a few less complex questions first, your participants will be more likely to answer the more complex or sensitive questions later.
    • Organize by topic. Similar questions should be grouped together so the questionnaire flows naturally.
    • Keep it short and simple. Questions should be short, focused, and easy to answer. This will ensure a higher response rate and limit survey fatigue.
    • Be consistent. Use uniform rating scales, word choices and definitions throughout your survey. If you start with 1=low and 5=high, stick with that format.
    • Be precise. Avoid generic answer choices like “sometimes” and “rarely”. Use actual numbers instead (e.g, “more than 3 times per week”).
    • Be balanced. Provide an equal number of positive and negative response options.
    • Be complete. Include all possible answers, and make sure there is no overlap between answer options.
  • Eliminate bias. Try to construct the questions as objectively as possible. Avoid leading questions like, “Can you see why this product was voted best in customer satisfaction?” Instead, ask how they would describe their satisfaction level.

Common Question Types

Survey questions fall into two categories: Structured (fixed response) where they choose from a provided list of answer options and Non-structured (open-ended) where they can fill in their own text or numeric answer. Both are extremely useful, depending on the type of feedback you need.

Following are the most commonly used question types:

Multiple Choice

These are questions with two or more answer options. These are useful for collecting structured responses.

Single Response Style (select one answer)

Example 1: Do you smoke?     Y / N

Example 2:  If yes, how many cigarettes do you smoke per day?

use multiple choice to write great survey questions   

A common pitfall here is missing a possible response. Depending on your question, you may need to add a choice called “none”, or if you would like additional details, you could try an “other” option with space for a written response. You also want to make sure there is no overlap, such as using 10-20, 20-30, etc. in the previous example, which would clearly taint the results.  

Multiple Response Style (you may select more than one answer)

Example 1:  What is your race? (check all that apply)

use multiple response style to write great survey questions

Rating Scales

Rating scales ask respondents to rate how much they agree with a certain statement using a common scale (e.g, 1 to 5, where 1=low and 5=high). These are useful for gauging their opinions, attitudes and behaviors. When using rating scales, it is important to make sure you have a neutral option and a balanced, equal number of positive and negative responses. Scales most commonly use 5 or 7 options.

Example 1: The teacher was knowledgeable.

Example 2:  How would you describe your experience navigating the instruction manual.

use rating scale to write great survey questions (sample 2)

Common pitfalls here include being inconsistent with your scales (leading some respondents to answer incorrectly) and asking leading questions, such as, “We pride ourselves on our easy-to-use manuals. How easy was our manual to read?”

Ranking Scales

These ask respondents to rank a list of items in order (e.g, from favorite to least favorite, or most important to least important). It is recommended that you use these with caution. They are known to be reliable at determining first and last place, but not so much the fuzzy middle, as respondents often have to choose a pecking order for items that are essentially of equal value to them.

Example 1: Please rank the following customer service features in order of most to least important when contacting our agency by phone (1=most important, 5=least important)

use ranking scale to write great survey questions

Open-Ended Questions

These are questions with no provided answers options. Respondents answer by writing in their own text. These are great for eliciting responses about attitudes and opinions in a respondent’s own words, or having them provide a numeric answer without a suggested range. The downside is it requires extra time, can cause survey abandonment, and makes data collection and analysis more challenging.

Example: Name two ways we could have improved your customer experience today?

Questionnaire integrity is critical for getting quality data. By following these tips and guidelines, you will be well on your way to success. 

For more information on question and survey design or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!

By |2019-03-20T10:51:08+00:00December 6th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

When to Do a Multimodal Survey?

Multimodal or mixed-mode surveys are research surveys that use two or more forms of communication to reach respondents (e.g, telephone and email). In today’s increasingly complex, interconnected world, we now have ways of communicating that didn’t exist even a few years ago. The list of channels seems almost endless nowadays, including regular and express mail, email, online, social media, mobile (text, instant message), scannable paper, telephone, kiosk, tablet, in-person, video, and more.   

So how do you know which channel or combination of channels is right for your survey project? The answer lies in the target audience you are trying to reach (as well as time and cost considerations). For example, older respondents are typically less trusting of online channels and can be reached more reliably by landline telephone and regular mail. Millennials may not even have a landline and would be more receptive to an email or a text message. Teens are generally receptive to mobile and social media. One constant to be mindful of, however, is that everyone has a physical address where they live – making mail a preferred channel in almost any multimodal research effort.

Not only do various target populations have preferred forms of communication, but there are also subsets within them that prefer something else entirely. Mobile phone call vs. text message among Generation X’ers is a prime example, in which someone’s preference is highly personal.

You should do a multimodal survey if you have a target population with varied respondents or hard-to-reach respondents.

Not only can a mixed methodology approach to data collection help you reach more respondents, but it can also help you maximize response rate. That’s because multiple channels give you more opportunities for follow ups, reminders, and options to complete the survey in a format that suits them.

As a leading provider of mail and multimodal surveys, we manage mixed methodology research every day, including planning, production, distribution, fulfillment and data collection. That said, our most popular service by far is Mail to Online. In this strategy, respondents are notified by regular mail and given instructions to complete the survey online. Respondents then have the option to print out or request a paper survey and complete a hard copy or complete the online survey.

Multimodal survey planning and execution requires a high level of expertise to run seamlessly. Your survey provider can help you manage all the details, including which channels to use, along with the projected cost and timeline.

For more information on multimodal surveys or any aspect of survey management, contact us today!

By |2019-03-20T10:54:13+00:00November 21st, 2018|Survey Mailing Services, Survey Research Services|0 Comments

This Mail Survey Spec Sheet Is Everything

Mail surveys are among the most effective tools in the research industry, besting online, email and phone survey methods in both response rate and data integrity. As with all survey research, however, survey success begins with careful planning, including brainstorming your goals, creating questions, choosing participants, determining your budget, and perhaps most tedious, choosing materials and pricing out costs with your vendors. But have no fear. We have you covered with these handy Survey Mail Spec Sheet and Timeline Templates that make your life easy and get you the honest, apples-to-apples quotes you need to keep your costs in check.

Vendors typically require a spec sheet in order to provide you with an accurate quote. The important thing here is to provide each vendor with the same spec sheet, so you can get an accurate read on their pricing.

Spec Sheet

Your spec sheet should document the list size, number of mailings, type and quantity of materials that will be needed, budget and requirements for each mailing. The good news is we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. This spreadsheet will help organize and calculate the materials across your mailings. Download the spec sheet.

Once your project specification sheet is completed, you’ll want to have your stakeholders, if applicable, review to make sure that everything has been captured. Now you can piece out the specification sheet and send to your different vendors for pricing and don’t forget to ask them for their timeline, which we’ll discuss next.


Timeline is driven by the requirements of your project. For example, mailing 500 pieces vs. 50,000 pieces could have a significant impact to your schedule. Alternatively, the complexity of your mailing can also have a significant impact to your timeline. Mailing 10,000 units that have 5 pieces being inserted with a 4 way match, could take just as long to prep 50,000 pieces with 1 component and no matching. A best practice is to provide each vendor with a detailed timeline in advance so they know what your expectations are. We have filled in some ‘standard’ timelines for the different tasks but you can easily update with your requirements. Just populate your tasks and the number of working days required for each task and the spreadsheet will update accordingly. Download the timeline template.

With careful planning, you can account for all the variables in your mail survey, leaving little room for miscommunication and most importantly, get the accurate quotes you need to move forward with confidence.

If you’d like more information on mail survey planning or any aspect of survey management, contact us today!

By |2019-03-20T10:55:24+00:00November 8th, 2018|Survey Mailing Services|0 Comments

Creating a Data Schema

At long last, you’ve made it to the data collection stage of your survey project. It’s time to warm up the automated data collection equipment, make sure everything is programmed correctly and prepare for the results to come in.

As with each stage of survey administration, there is some prep work needed to ensure accurate outcomes. In the case of automated data collection, it all begins with the Data Schema.   

A Data Schema is a blueprint of what all the numbers mean in the data file you will get with your results (see chart below). The good news is that you get to design this to your liking.

You will assign a value to each response (i.e, “1 = Daily”; “2 = Several times a week,” etc). We recommend you Include values for “blank” and “multi marks,” as shown in the chart below as -9 and -8, respectively. You will also want to include ranges where applicable. For example, if you are surveying teenagers and asking the year they were born, you can put a range on the year that you are expecting. If a date comes up out of range, the automation will stop for an operator to confirm the entry and ensure there was not a substitution error.

As part of your data schema, we highly recommend you include a data dictionary (see 3rd column in chart below). This identifies all the expected values for that question.

Data Schema

The data dictionary column allows you to easily build a query to check for values that are out of range.

Sample Data Testing

After your survey is programmed, the testing begins. Programmatic testing against the data schema ensures that your multi-modal data collection will run seamlessly and that the resulting data is delivered in a format you can use. Your data collection partner will specifically test for:

    • Coding – Did it code correctly?
    • Exporting – Did it export correctly?
  • Formatting – Can the customer work with the data as supplied or do they need something changed or adjusted

We start with a test that accounts for all possible survey responses. (The total number of surveys filled out is equal to the maximum number of response choices on the survey, plus 2). To test this, we fill out one survey with all the first response choices marked. Then we fill out a second survey with all the second response choices, etc.  We follow this up with a test to account for multiple marks entered on single response items, another with test text entered for comment style questions, and finally, one for “mark all that apply” questions. By testing for all possible response types, we ensure that all questions are programmed correctly.

The next test involves data sampling (i.e, using a small subset of your respondent population to collect data). We do a mixed response test with live forms filled out by a respondent subset to ensure nothing unexpected occurs in the way respondents are filling out the forms. For example, we might see that many people are selecting multiple responses to a single response question. This gives us the opportunity to alter the programming to capture all responses.

The Data Schema is an essential part of data collection programming, testing and processing. By creating an impeccable blueprint and investing the time to properly test samples, you will ensure the integrity of your results and safeguard against the pain of data loss!

For more information on data schemas, data collection or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!

By |2019-03-20T10:56:38+00:00October 9th, 2018|Data Capture Services|0 Comments

Automated Data Collection: Which Approach is Best?

Long gone are the days when mail survey responses were collected manually and key entered into digital format. Today, the question isn’t whether you should automate, but rather which automated data collection approach you should be using.

The most commonly used data capture technologies in the survey industry today are OMR (optical mark recognition) and Image Scanning, each with inherent advantages and disadvantages. While both provide exceptional accuracy and cost efficiency, OMR is significantly faster while Image Scanning offers more flexibility.

Choosing a data collection technology for your project is something you will need to do early in the planning process before your survey forms are designed. Your survey research partner can help you determine which solution will work best for your unique project.

Following are detailed descriptions of these industry-best quantitative data collection technologies:

OMR Technology

OMR technology detects the absence or presence of a mark. It is the fastest data collection technology in the industry and is particularly adept at measuring the darkness of a mark to help determine whether the mark is a valid response or an erasure. OMR is commonly used in standardized school testing such as the fill in the bubble test forms.

OMR forms are very specialized documents that require critical registration. This means that the forms must include precise “timing marks” along the edge of the form to let the OMR scanner know where to look for data. If this is not done correctly, data collection will be adversely affected. Therefore, you must work with a printer who has experience with OMR forms.

Color is also extremely important with OMR documents. Only colors that contain no black as part of their PMS color can be used. If a pen will be allowed, only various shades of red can be used, which further limits color choices. In addition, the paper stock requires the proper reflectance and fluorescence so that it will not read false marks during the data collection process.

As the forms are being scanned, the data is immediately written to the data file. OMR scanning has an accuracy rating of 99.9%, but only when the forms are filled out correctly. Respondents need to use the correct writing instrument and fill the bubbles completely to achieve this type of accuracy rating.

A drawback to OMR technology is that it requires you to produce pre-printed documents, which some clients have found to be inflexible, costly (especially with small quantities) and incapable of meeting design change requirements on short notice.

Image Scanning Technology

Image scanning uses ‘mark sense technology’ to detect marks on a form. While it looks a lot like OMR (collecting data from multiple choice questions), mark sense technology is very different. Rather than look for marks on a form, the scanner takes a bi-tonal (black and white) image of each form field and looks for differences in pixels between the scanned image and a template, revealing the marks in the process.

  • Time

Image scanning does take longer to process. This is because images are taken of each page, then processed against a pre-programmed template, called a document definition. Any fields that fall outside the tolerance are routed to a human verifier who reviews the field on screen and makes the appropriate choice based on the rules that have been established. Only after this step will the data be written to the data file. Testing has shown that image scan processing can take up to 40% longer than OMR depending on the rules established.

  • Flexibility

However, image scanning is much more flexible than OMR. The biggest advantage is during printing, as image scanning does not require special ink colors or the critical registration that OMR must have. Forms can be printed in black and white, and images can be stored and indexed off of any field that is collected during the scanning process.  

Forms can also include fields for open-ended comments (i.e, handwriting) that will be captured using a combination of ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition) software and operator review. Rules can also be established that force a field to be reviewed by an operator for editing. For example, all blank responses should be inspected. This is a popular rule for tests administered to young students who may have circled the choice vs marking the bubble. Other popular rules that are established for human editing include double marks, light marks that do not meet the minimum threshold, missing responses, invalid ID’s, out-of-range marks, and more.

Although the processing takes longer, we have found Image Scanning data to be more accurate than that of OMR because of the operator intervention with the form. While using an operator will certainly increase the cost of collecting data, the flexibility and increased accuracy may be worth it for your project!

 Automated Data Collection - Quick Reference Chart


OMR and Image Scanning are the best-automated data collection technologies in the industry today. Because of its inherent flexibility, Image Scanning is the more commonly used option. But for those that can adhere to OMR’s strict requirements, there is no faster or more accurate fully-automated way to collect data for multiple choice only questions.

When you do decide what automated data collection approach your project will need, one of the first things you need to prep for is a blueprint of what all the numbers mean in the data file you will get with your results. This is called a Data Schema. Check out our blog post on Creating a Data Schema

For more information on automated data collection, data capture services, or any aspect of mail survey management, contact us today!

By |2019-05-24T19:57:48+00:00September 13th, 2018|Data Capture Services|0 Comments