Sample Size: How Big Is Big Enough?

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In conducting a survey, how large a sample do you need to feel confident about the accuracy of the results? Are 100 responses enough, or do you need 1,000? Whatever number you decide on, what response rate can you expect? In other words, how many people do you have to survey to get the number of responses you want? Let’s take a look at these questions.

How Confident Do You Want to Feel?
The size of your sample depends on how confident you want to be about your results. They key question is: "Are these results truly representative of a larger population?" If you would like to have a confidence level of 95%, you would need to have a margin of error of 5% or less. This means that there would only be a 5% chance of your results differing from the results you would get if you surveyed the entire population. (The margin of error is also called the confidence interval.)

There is a simple equation you can use to determine margin of error:
The margin of error equals 1 divided by the square root of the sample size. Suppose you had a sample size of 400. Your equation would be 1 divided by 20 (the square root of 400), which equals 5%. So to have a confidence level of 95%, you would need to have a sample size of 400.

Obviously, the higher the confidence level you want, the larger your sample needs to be. A confidence level of 95% is widely considered to be acceptable.

Of course this assumes that you have a truly random sample. As experienced pollsters know, it is easy for sampling bias to sneak into a survey without anyone noticing.

How Many to Ask?
So once you have decided on a confidence level, you can easily determine how large a sample you need. But how many people do you have to survey to get the desired number of responses? That is a trickier question.

Response rates vary greatly from one population to another. One of Mineful’s clients, a medical association, received a 25% response rate to a member satisfaction survey. Another client had a similar response to a survey conducted in connection with a conference. But such high rates are the exception rather than the rule. For a survey conducted through cold email invitations, a response rate of 1% is considered good.

Response rates are affected by a number of variables:
  • How strongly people feel about the survey topic.
  • How much loyalty people feel toward the organization conducting the survey.
  • How easy it is too complete the survey.
  • How confident people feel that someone will pay attention to their responses.
Of course these factors can be difficult to measure, and experience is the best way to predict response rate.

Fortunately, there is an online sample size calculator that can make this whole process much easier (http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html). These are the variables you will need to plug in to use this calculator:
  • Acceptable margin of error
  • Acceptable confidence level
  • Population size (for populations smaller than 20,000
  • Response distribution
The calculator explains what each of these variables means.
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Take Control of Your Market Research

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Marketing campaigns typically involve three stages. First an advertiser or ad agency hires a marketing research professional to collect data about the target market: demographics, purchasing habits, wants and needs. Then the professional consultant analyzes the data, attempting to create a customer profile that can form the basis for a marketing plan. Finally, the advertiser or ad agency creates and implements a marketing plan using the research it has commissioned.

At least that’s the way things used to work. Today, digital tools available from companies like Mineful enable advertisers and ad agency to do their own research, in effect cutting out the middle man between themselves and the marketplace. The potential for cost savings with this new approach is obvious. Data collection and analysis can be expensive, and if marketers can handle these two stages of the process themselves they can save a considerable amount of money. But there are also other advantages of taking control of your market research.

Research on Your Own Terms

Although it can be worthwhile sometimes to get an outsider’s perspective on your market research efforts, hiring a consultant to collect and analyze market data has some definite drawbacks. After all, no one knows your business better than you.

Conducting your own research gives you complete control of the process. You can decide which potential customers to survey, how and when to contact them, and exactly what to ask. If the results of a survey don’t provide the kind of information you need, you can easily change the survey parameters and try again. Keeping the cost of surveys down also allows you to reach more people or conduct surveys more frequently.

Taking charge of the analysis stage of the research process gives you more control over how you use the data you collect. For example, if you decide to change your store hours or product offerings, you can use the results of your last survey to see how customers might respond to these changes. Since you have complete control of your data, you don’t need to go back to consultants when you want run a new analysis.

Powerful, Easy-to-Use Tools
One of the main reasons why more and more companies are taking over their own market research is that the digital tools available for this purpose have become increasingly easy to use. In the past you would probably have to hire a statistician to help you analyze survey data. But now you can conduct your own sophisticated analysis using tools that require no specialized knowledge. For example, Mineful’s software lets you use a tool called conjoint analysis to see how responses to various questions are related. This sort of analysis can help you understand such things as how customers make trade-offs between price and desirable product features.

Survey software also makes it easy to display the results of your analysis using widely understood formats such as pie charts and bar charts. Dashboards, a relatively feature, summarize data in a format that can be understood with just a glance. Dashboards make it easy to create different types of displays for different levels or functions in your organization.

With tools like these, it’s no wonder why a growing number businesses are taking control of their own market research.
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Opinion Polls Track Response to President Obama's Budget

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Opinion polls do a good job of predicting who will win elections, but they typically have a harder time tracking public opinion on complex political issues.

The 2010 budget proposed by President Obama offers an instructive example. Most well-known polls have shied away from asking the obvious question: Do you approve or disapprove of the President’s budget? Their reluctance to ask this question is understandable. The federal budget is so large and so complex that it doesn’t lend itself to a simple thumbs up or thumbs down verdict. Rather than asking about the budget itself, a number of polls have asked about an issue that many people find easier to understand: the budget deficit.

Doubts About the Deficit
President Obama’s proposed budget calls for $3.8 trillion in spending with a deficit of $1.56 trillion. By way of comparison, the 2009 budget had a deficit of $1.41 trillion. Obama predicts that the deficit will peak in 2010 and will begin to decline the following year as the economy recovers. How do Americans feel about these astronomical numbers? More than a little uncomfortable.

The public’s opinion of the way the President is handling the deficit has taken a significant turn for the worse in the past year. According to polls conducted for CNN, in March of 2009, 52% of the public approved of the President’s approach to the deficit while 47% disapproved. When asked the same question in January 2010, 36% approved of the President’s performance on the deficit and 62% disapproved. Only 2% expressed no opinion.

More Debt or More Taxes?
Despite concern about the deficit, a plurality of people believe that the projected deficit is acceptable if it means taxes can be reduced. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 41% of respondents would rather have higher deficits and lower taxes than a balanced budget and tax increases. A slightly smaller proportion, 36%, would rather see a balanced budget and higher taxes. And 23% are not sure which is better.

Opinions about this trade-off show some correlation with political ideology. Among people who consider themselves conservatives, 50% are willing to accept higher deficits if taxes are cut. Among people who consider themselves liberals, 63% favor raising taxes to achieve a balanced budget.

But are higher taxes the only way to balance the budget? In the same poll, 37% of respondents said that the budget can be balanced without tax increases, but 42% disagreed, saying that a balanced budget is not possible without higher taxes. Again these views show some correlation with ideology. Among Republicans, 47% believe that it is possible to balance the budget without raising taxes, while 53% of Democrats believe it is not.

Do It Yourself Polling
Large national polls like these are widely reported and discussed in the media, but political polling is no longer restricted to a handful of well-funded organizations. Online survey software, makes it possible for smaller groups to conduct their own polls. Local news organizations, advocacy groups, and other do-it-yourselfers are using online surveys to take their own reading of the public’s pulse.
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Creative Uses of Online Questionnaire Software

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Online questionnaires are used extensively to collect information about customer preferences, employee satisfaction, and other business-related topics. But a growing number of creative individuals are applying online questionnaires to tasks that have nothing to do with traditional business purposes.

They are using these powerful tools as convenient, cost-effective aids to education, communication, personal organization, and just about anything else they can think of.

Surveys in the Classroom
Online surveys have found a variety of applications in college classrooms, in subjects ranging from statistics to sociology.

For courses in statistics, students can apply the statistical principles they are learning in class to surveys they construct themselves. This type of exercise gives them an eye-opening appreciation of how abstract concepts can be used to make sense of real world data. Mineful’s questionnaire software allows students to employ some basic tools of data analysis, including such things as cross-tabs and frequency distribution. The professor can create and upload data and all students can access this information and do homeworks and analysis based on this data.

Online questionnaires are also becoming widely used for courses in sociology and political science. They provide an easy, relatively inexpensive way for students to conduct research on political opinions and a variety of personal preferences. By seeing first-hand the complexities involved in sampling public opinion, students can gain a healthy skepticism about survey results they see reported in the news.

Academics pursuing research in public health are using online surveys to learn more about such topics as exercise habits, drug use, and eating patterns. Just about any type of research involving human activity can benefit from online surveys.

Surveys as Communication Tools
Businesses have traditionally used surveys to collect information from customers. Now, with the growing popularity of social media, surveys are also becoming a communication tool.

For example, a hotel chain might send a quick survey to all of its Facebook “fans” asking about their favorite vacation destinations. Typically such a survey will take less than a minute to complete, and respondents will have a chance to win some type of prize. Respondents will be encouraged to check back in a few days to see the results of the survey. Using tools such as those offered by Mineful’s questionnaire software, the company can easily compile the results of the survey and present them in eye-catching charts.

Such a survey serves several purposes. It reminds customers about the company’s hotels. It shows customers that the company is interested in their preferences. It encourages customers to come back to the company’s Facebook page. And it serves the more traditional purpose of collecting information from customers.

Your Personal Database
People are even using online surveys to keep track of personal data. For example, they might use an online survey as a spreadsheet to keep track of their weight or time spent exercising.

Serious dieters might use questionnaire software to record the number of calories they consume, even when they’re traveling.

Online questionnaires offer a number of advantages as personal organization tools. They are easier to use than most spreadsheet programs, they produce colorful charts with just a few clicks, and they can be accessed from anywhere.

Like so many other digital tools, online questionnaires are finding a wide range of applications that their creators never intended.
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Survey Data Integration Helps Companies Better Understand Consumers

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Chicago, IL (PRWEB) January 26, 2010 -- Marketing professionals are making better use of consumer feedback, demographic data and purchase history. By understanding the relationship between consumer characteristics and opinions businesses can better target marketing campaigns, understand consumer needs, and improve current products and services.

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