SURV656: Web Survey Methodology and Online Panels with practical survey programming

Data Generating Process

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Instructor: Jernej Berzelak

Web surveys appeared soon after the web was launched, at the beginning of the 1990s, and today they are the prevailing mode of survey data collection. With them, it has become very easy to create a survey, almost as simple as writing and sending an email. Correspondingly, sometimes it appears that basic computer literacy is not only the necessary, but also the sufficient skill for conducting a web survey.

However, conducting web surveys raises numerous practical and conceptual questions: Is a web survey suitable for my research problem? How do I recruit respondents from the general population? Can I generalize the obtained results if survey participants come from online social media? How many people can I expect to answer my survey? Which strategy will assure enough cooperation? How much time can a web questionnaire take? Should respondents be forced to answer every question? How do I select the right web survey software? How do I adapt to respondents answering from a smartphone?

There are hundreds of questions like these and competent responses require the understanding of many issues, from changing technologies to various methodological specifics. Very often, there are no simple answers. Common sense alone is not enough for many of these situations. This course presents a dedicated treatment of web survey methodology, bringing evidence-based and comprehensive insight into all aspects of the web survey process” (Callegaro, Lozar-Manfreda & Vehovar, 2015, p. XI).

By carefully reviewing all the evidence-based research for the three steps to manage a web survey (pre-fielding, fielding, and post-fielding), the students will learn how to run a web survey from the research idea to the final steps of data collection. To give students practical skills that they can apply right after the class, a web survey programming exercise will be part of the final grade. Thanks to the cooperation of SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics and LimeSurvey, the students will be able to program a medium to complex survey using one of two survey platform leaders in the industry.

It is also impossible to talk about web surveys without talking about online panels, online communities, and online pools of respondents. For this reasons, two classes will be dedicated to the latest findings about online panels, their usage and popularity, their strengths and limitations, and how the industry is handling online panels and sample sources.

Course objectives: 

By the end of the course, students will…

  • know if a web survey is appropriate for the target population of a research project
  • be able to manage the entire process of collecting data via a web survey
  • have the mental tools to design a questionnaire to be fielded online
  • have a better understanding on online panels and how to use them
  • know where to find answers to questions related to web surveys and online data collection
  • learn what aspects of web surveys still deserve more research
  • learn how to program a web survey

The last two weeks of the course are reserved for the students to program and field (to the other students) a web survey using a web survey platform. The student can use either SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics who kindly provided free licenses for the entire two months of the class. As an alternative LimeSurvey pro is also available as their pro version allows to collect 25 survey completes per month.


Grading will be based on:

  • 6 homework assignments (worth 60%)
  • Participation in the weekly online meetings (10% of grade): engagement in discussions during the meetings and submission of questions via forum/e-mail [1
  • Final Exam (30% web survey programming)

[1] Each student can obtain a maximum of 3 points each week for participation (one point for submitting questions, one point for attendance and one point for active participation/engagement). The student will receive the full score if he or she obtains a total of at least 9 points after the 6 weeks with online meetings.

  • SURV 400 Fundamentals of Surveys and Data Science or
  • knowlege on data collection methods or
  • Permission from instructor due to demonstrated knowledge of total survey error


Callegaro, Lozar-Manfreda & Vehovar (2015). Web Survey Methodology, London: Sage.

Dillman, Smyth and Christian (2014). Internet, Phone, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, 4th Edition. Hoboken, NJ, US: Wiley.

Weekly online meetings & assignments:

  • Week 1: Web surveys, mode and sampling (Assignment 1) 
  • Week 2: Online panels and convenience samples of internet users (Assignment 2) 
  • Week 3: Questionnaires for web surveys and paradata (Assignment 3) 
  • Week 4: Nonresponse and web surveys management (Assignment 4) 
  • Week 5: Postfielding & device effects (Assignment 5) 
  • Week 6: Data quality of online panels (Assignment 6) 
  • Week 7 & 8: Web survey programming exercise
  • Final exam 

Course Dates


Spring Semester (January – May)


Summer Term (June – August)