Start a project
Since 1992, the Survey Research Center has helped hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students collect original survey data for their research projects. We encourage students to seek our advice early in the year they start their research work. Here are some guidelines for getting your project through each of the stages shown below:
Students should talk to their faculty advisors about formulating research projects. If your project involves the analysis of survey data, you should check first to see if someone else has already collected the data you need. One way to start is by checking data sets available from federal statistical agencies such as the Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These agencies spend millions of dollars every year on survey data collection and archives of their data sets are available on their web sites. There are also archives of public opinion data that can be accessed through the web. Please check the SRC’s Helpful Links page and Princeton University’s Data and Statistical Services.
After discussing your project with your academic advisor, tell us more about your project using our online form. First time users should schedule an appointment to meet with a staff member of the SRC. During this meeting the Associate or Assistant Director of SRC will review your research project, determine the most appropriate methods to accomplish your goals and steps needed to get your project up and running.
The next step is to work with your advisor to draft the questionnaire for your survey. At this stage you can also come to the SRC for guidance on question wording, formatting, and layout. For additional advice on drafting your questionnaire, please see Chapter 6 of the American Statistical Association’s online guide "What is a Survey?"
- To comply with IRB guidelines, the first page of your survey questionnaire should function as the consent form, or as in the example below:
Note: You need to fill in the information in the brackets […]
TITLE OF RESEARCH: [Insert study title]
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: [Insert Principal Investigator’s name]
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR’S DEPARTMENT: [Insert Principal Investigator’s Department]
Key information about the study:
Your informed consent is being sought for research. Participation in the research is voluntary.
The purpose of the research [Insert description]:
The expected duration of the subject's participation [Insert description]:
The procedures that the subject will be asked to follow in the research [Insert description]:
The reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject as a result of participation [Insert description]:
The benefits to the subject or to others, e.g., society that may reasonably be expected from the research [Insert description]:
The alternative procedures, if any, that might be advantageous to the subject [Insert description]:
Additional information about the study:
[Describe the procedures to be used to protect the confidentiality of your research records.]
[For example]: All records from this study will be kept confidential. Your responses will be kept private, and we will not include any information that will make it possible to identify you in any report we might publish. Research records will be stored securely in a locked cabinet and/or on password-protected computers. The research team will be the only party that will have access to your data.
[If the research involves the collection of identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens, insert one of the following statements]:
- The subject’s information or biospecimens collected as part of the research, even if identifiers are removed, will not be used or distributed for future research studies;
- Or identifiers might be removed from the identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens and that, after such removal, the information or biospecimens could be used for future research studies or distributed to another investigator for future research studies without additional informed consent from the subject.
[Specify whether subjects will be compensated and, if so, the amount. If amount will be prorated for any reason, state the amount.]
Who to contact with questions:
Principal investigator [Insert contact information for Principal Investigator here]:
If you have questions regarding your rights as a research subject, or if problems arise which you do not feel you can discuss with the Investigator, please contact the Institutional Review Board at:
Assistant Director, Research Integrity and Assurance
Phone: (609) 258-8543
I understand the information presented above and that:
My participation is voluntary.
Refusal to participate will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which I am otherwise entitled.
I may discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits.
I do not waive any legal rights or release Princeton University or its agents from liability for negligence.
I hereby give my consent to be the subject of the research.
- I consent to participating in the survey.
- I do not consent to participating in the survey
Warning: Be sure to substitute bracketed instructions from your consent form with information appropriate to your research.
In addition to your questionnaire, you will also need to submit to the IRB a copy of the letter or email message you plan to use to invite people to take your survey.
Below are some examples of survey invitation letters:
Subject: Senior Thesis Survey – Your Chance to win $50
I am a senior in the psychology department. Below is a link to a survey that is part of my research for my senior thesis. It is a short 10 minute survey about health care issues. By completing this survey you will be entered into a lottery. Four winners will be randomly selected to receive a cash prize of $50. Your participation is greatly appreciated!
Thanks for your time,
This link is unique to you. Please do not forward it.
Subject: The High School Valedictorian Project
Dear [FirstName] [LastName],
Congratulations on your outstanding academic accomplishments during high school! As valedictorian of [F4] High School you have been personally selected to participate in The High School Valedictorian Project, a groundbreaking and innovative study investigating the post-secondary school outcomes of America’s best and brightest.
Please share your experiences in our approximately twenty to thirty minute online survey by clicking [Link], a unique and secure link created just for you. Rest assured that all of your answers will be used only for scholarly purposes and will be kept completely confidential.
Your participation is critical to the success of this project. Only through your responses can we better understand this pivotal period in the life course and help future high achieving high school graduates successfully navigate it.
Thank you again for your so very generous participation.
Before you can begin your survey, you may need to get approval from the Princeton University Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is responsible for monitoring all research at Princeton University that involves human subjects. Before you can begin your study, it may need review and approval by the IRB. To find out if your study needs to be reviewed, you must log in to the eRIA online application system, click on “Human Protocol” in the upper left of the screen and then choose “Create New Protocol.” This will open a form with questions about the survey you are proposing to carry out. After you’ve answered all the questions, you’ll need to upload copies of your questionnaire, your invitation emails or letters, and a copy of the consent form you plan to use.
Once you’ve completed and “locked” your application, it then goes to your faculty advisor for review and online signature, and then on to the IRB for review. The IRB may then ask for additional information or clarification, to which you should promptly respond. If you do not receive immediate approval from the IRB because there is a problem with your application or because the IRB requests additional information, it is important to make the changes requested or provide the additional information AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. As an alternative to approving your proposed survey, the IRB may determine that your study does not meet the definition of human subject research and therefore you do not need IRB review. You must not proceed with your survey until you have either IRB approval or a determination from the IRB that your study does not qualify as human subject research.
Once you have full IRB approval or an exemption from IRB review, please contact the SRC to get access to the appropriate web survey tool. Using your Qualtrics account, you will create an online version of your questionnaire. You can use survey design wizard or develop your survey from scratch.
- Be sure to proofread your questionnaire application thoroughly to make sure there are no spelling errors, missing words or punctuation problems.
- Test and re-test the questionnaire to be sure the skip patterns are working correctly.
- At the end of your survey, we recommend that you direct all users to this "Thank you" page.
- Send the URL for your survey to your advisor and some friends so they can offer comments or suggestions.
The default period of use of your account will be six weeks. If you need this account for more than six weeks then please notify SRC.
In survey research, your “sample” is the group of people you are inviting to take your survey. If you are conducting a survey by mail, you’ll have a sample of names and addresses. For a telephone survey, you’ll start with a list of telephone numbers. To do a survey over the Internet you need email addresses. There are several ways to develop or acquire a sample:
- You can supply your own list of names and email addresses (from a directory or list service)
- Collect names from web directories (for example, all public school principals in the state of New Jersey)
- Collect respondents using panel services.
- Use a sample of Princeton University students
- The SRC will arrange for you to use a sample of Princeton students for your survey.
To upload your sample file in Qualtrics, save your data as a *.csv file in the following format:
firstname, lastname, email, field4, field5, field6, etc.
where the additional fields can be either a random number or a text string that you want to appear in a question for that sample member. Uploading and storing names allows you to send personalized email invitations and reminder messages. A random number will enable you to create skip logic so you can perform experiments in your questionnaire. A text string will allow you to customize the wording of a question for each sample member.
Once your online questionnaire is ready and your sample is loaded, you may start your data collection. If you are sending email invitations to your sample members, you will need to send the text of the invitation to the SRC and we will launch the survey for you. The system (Qualtrics) generates email invitations that contain unique links for each participant. Let us know if you want to personalize the invitation letters.
If you are planning to send out a general link to participants using your own email account or plan to make the link available somewhere else (lab, website etc), you can do that yourself.
NOTE: Before you launch your survey with your full sample, try it first with a small sample that includes you, your advisor and a few friends. This will allow you to fine tune the email invitation before you launch your survey with the full sample.
If you do not get enough responses in the first 5 to 7 days, you may want to send a reminder email message to the non-responders. You can send out more than one reminder, as required, after a few more days.
Qualtrics has special features that enable users to analyze their survey results without downloading the data. For more information on these features, click on the following links
When you have finished collecting completed interviews, you can download your data any of several formats available from Qualtrics (.CSV, SPSS etc). You can download your data as numeric codes or as literal text responses. Responses to open ended questions will exported as literal text along with the responses to all your other questions.
When you have your data and are ready to begin analyzing your responses, you can get help from Data and Statistical Services in Firestone Library. If you are planning to get help from DSS, please make sure to download your data in SPSS format (from Qualtrics).