September 11, 2009
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Designing Surveys

At Brand Savant, Tom Webster explores how Tinderbox can be valuable for designing questionnaires and surveys. It’s surprisingly complicated:

Survey questionnaires are not like other writing projects, however, in that they are, in a sense, 'programs.; Questions often depend upon the answers to previous questions, and some questions may or may not be skipped depending on prior responses. If you move a question towards the beginning of a survey that depends upon a response to another question, you need to be able to see what that dependency is so that you don’t 'break' the survey and can move the related questions correspondingly. You also need to check the logic of a survey instrument to be sure that you aren’t skipping persons on a given question that should actually get the question, and that you aren’t assuming ‘facts not in evidence’ by asking a question before establishing a critical bit of information.

Webster singles out Tinderbox for its versatility in moving between spatial hypertext maps and hierarchical charts and outlines.

With survey research tools increasingly becoming platform independent, there are lots of possibilities for Mac users in the field, and I highly recommend Tinderbox for a variety of research purposes. It can be complex, but doesn’t need to be, really–I just open it up and dump text in with the default settings and then worry about order and presentation later. With an outliner I am constricted to a hierarchical view, but with a mind-mapper, I lose the logical order that a survey instrument eventually needs to have. With Tinderbox I can shift from chaos to order, depending on the thinking mode I need to utilize, and the tool shifts with me.