Collecting surveys from 50 teams

For my master thesis I had to gather enough data to do scientific research. Upfront I was told that collecting surveys from 50 teams on your own was “impossible”. I proved the opposite, in 3,5 months, which also involved a summer holiday so less responents were active. I am very proud of the result. Here are some tips if you would like to achieve the same result.

As there is not much information available on how you should approach organizations and get the data, there are some things you need to do to gather the data as fast as possible. Gathering data with others is preferable, although your own items end up later in the questionnaire or you are limited on the number of questions you can ask, as your team mates want to collect data as well. On your own you have various struggles, but also a lot of options. Remember that there is always a way out as there are thousands of organizations which might help you.

  • It is all about the numbers. If you want to have a lot of responses, get e-mailing. E-mail big numbers of people. If you need 50 teams, at least 400-500 people should be contacted.
  • Spread the e-mails through a mailinglist where the title, subject and company names can differ. Look for mailmerge options.
  • Attach the surveys in Word format upfront so people can decide (or discuss with their manager) if it is okay to participate. This gives higher results than just asking if they would like to participate without giving them information.
  • A face to face conversation with an organization, or per phone, is preferred as you then can describe what exactly you would like. For example no team members which are in 2 teams (doubles) or what kind of team leaders of what kind of projects.
  • Do not forget to “dress up” the thing you ask from a company. Explain what you would like to ask from them, why, explain (if possible) the research model and the possible outcomes.
  • Discuss the surveys, organizations might want to add their own questions.
  • Provide (in short) the benefits, what can be an outcome for them, try to sell your research to them.
  • Focus on the actual people, do not e-mail In most cases you do not get a reply.
  • Look at the period of the year. In the summer, response was likely to be low, although a lot of organizations still responded. Either with a no or with a yes.
  • Focus on the time of spreading out. Early in the morning or late in the evening differs
  • People almost never give a reason why they do not want to participate. Most of the time they are “too busy”. Do not waste time trying to convince them.
  • Do ask upfront if you can be referred to someone else in the organization if they do not have time.
  • Give the amount of time the survey takes to fill in in your introduction e-mail.
  • Set a deadline in your e-mail to the respondents. I did not until I had 40 teams, as data was flowing in steadily. But eventually this might work. It is not guarenteed that this will speed up the process.
  • Send a lot of reminders, but wait at least 1 week before reminding them.
  • In some organizations it helps to spread the survey hardcopy. Some organizations work differently than others, or do not have access to a computer (factories, hospitals).
  • Try to get your data in under 30 questions. Survey dropout rate is higher when surveys are longer.
  • Think of a strategy when data is missing. What will you do when people do not fill in age? Do you require that question to be filled in, then people most likely will drop out and you have incomplete (missing) data. If not required you can solve it by getting the averages / medians or other solutions to calculate the data.
  • Let the research request be reformulated by one of your contact persons. They know the organization where your survey is filled in the best. They know what is possible and what is not.
  • Try to negotiate which further possibilities this organization may have for you. Maybe an intership via the (unofficial) route, maybe an interview to clarify on the data.
  • If you have the choice, look for the best data. Not a team that fills in your survey without paying much attention, but a team that is committed.
  • Always reply back on e-mails and try to do that with 48 hours. You never know who reads those e-mails or your name might end up in a database. For later opportunities this might be interesting.
  • Write down the contact moments you have with an organization. Name of organization, contact person, date of e-mail sent, date of reminder and the result. For example: yes, participates with 1 team, no answer, in progress et cetera.
  • The possible time frame for collecting data depends on your progress thoughout the day, and number of days per week that you can invest in collecting data. On average youcan collect around 10 teams per month.
  • Some teams take more than a month to complete. In some organizations a week is next to nothing. Other organizations respond within a day. This also depends on the coordination of supervisors / managers or the HR department.
  • Most HR departments will not help you as you are not an intern of the company.
  • Do NOT give out survey links to the wrong teams. You end up verifying the data afterwards which is a slow and difficult process.
  • Do remind team members that surveys should not be spread out throughout the company. Some people send the links in their enthusiasm to others and then response ends up in the wrong place, which needs correction afterwards.
  • Be carefull with permission. Some organizations say “yes we would like to participate” and then retreat after a while. Keep in close contact with an organization to avoid dissapointment.
  • Spread in much more organizations than you actually need. Organizations drop out, do not supply enough respondents per team, give incomplete surveys or provide mixed teams which might not the type of responses you are looking for.
  • Don’t bee too strict in response gathering upfront. Narrowing down your teams to hospitals and then to only from ER rooms might be smart, but remember that getting organizations to participate is already hard enough. Focus on a bit wider research population and the results you get in are better.
  • Keep contacts warm after getting in your results. Look for opportunities to give a presentation about the analyzed results.


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