Survey analysis is one of the most commonly used research methods. Scholars, market researchers and organizations of all sizes use surveys to measure public opinion, gauge customer satisfaction and study a wide range of social and cultural issues. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a research specialist or master statistician. Popular spreadsheet programs such as Excel, coupled with some basic statistical techniques, are sufficient to analyze data drawn from surveys.
Researchers use a wide range of statistical methods to analyze survey data. They do this using statistical software packages that are designed for research professionals. Popular programs include SAS, SPSS and Stata. However, many forms of survey data analysis can be done with a spreadsheet program such as Excel, which is part of Microsoft’s popular Office package. Excel and other spreadsheet programs are user-friendly and excellent for entering, coding and storing survey data.
The most popular basic methods of analyzing survey data include frequency distributions and descriptive statistics. Frequency distributions tell you how many people answered a survey question a certain way. For example, if a survey question asked respondents whether they approve of the president’s performance in office, a frequency distribution will give the number (and percentage) of respondents who approve (and disapprove) of the job the president is doing. Descriptive statistics help describe a set of data through descriptive measures, such as means and standard deviations. As with any kind of research, the nature of the study and of the data themselves will determine the best analytical techniques to use.
Excel’s capabilities make it a great tool for conducting basic survey analysis through such techniques as frequencies and descriptive statistics. All a user has to do is access the “Analysis ToolPak” in the “Tools” menu. This set of tools places a wide range of statistical methods, from the most basic to the most complex, at the user’s fingertips. Excel can calculate frequencies through basic commands typed as equations or through its popular PivotTables function. The latter is a tool that creates user-friendly tables.
Beyond basic techniques, there are more complex analytical methods used in survey research. Researchers may use factor analysis to examine the correlations among different survey questions with the intent of creating index measures for deeper analysis. Other researchers use regression techniques to examine how particular variables of interest affect a particular outcome. For example, public opinion researchers could use surveys that ask about a person’s political affiliation and his views on various issues could examine the correlations between various issues stands and political party identification.
Excel’s data analysis capabilities make it possible to conduct some advanced analyses of survey data but not others. However, a program known as XLStat expands the analytical capabilities of Excel. This program is available for online purchase and download. A person who is interested in a research-oriented career or who expects to conduct a great deal of survey research might consider purchasing a more specialized statistical software packages. Tools such as SAS and SPSS are designed with research professionals in mind and make a full range of analytical methods possible.