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Week 6: Understanding human behaviour through survey design
DATA5207: Data Analysis in the Social Sciences
Dr Shaun Ratcliff
This week, we will be working on an assessable group activity. Normally, this will be conducted during the
lab, in groups of approximately four. However, now this is something for you to do at home.
This task will be to design a survey research project. In doing so, you will practice some of the skills you
can use as you finish your major research project for this unit, and in any research you may work on after
you graduate (in both commerical and academic settings).
It requires you to think about research an academic problem, and develop a plan to successfully do this. You
also need to learn how to knit an RMD file to PDF, which is good practice for your research project.
To successfully complete this task, you are required to develop a research question to complete one of the
tasks outlined below. You will then draft survey questions you would field to answer this question, and then
briefly outline how you would use the data collected from these surveys.
We are focused on surveys here, as they play an important role in the social sciences, and the study of people
more generally. They provide data that allows us to study human behaviours and preferences that would
otherwise be difficult or impossible to examine. However, studying people through surveys to understand
the social world presents several unique challenges. Although survey research is a mature field, it is still
frequently done poorly. When designing surveys and using the data they produce, we need to take into
account the measurement error introduced by the survey design itself, and the way our responds react to it.
Two example surveys have been uploaded to canvas to provide a guide for how you might write your items.
If you have any questions about this task, please let us know.
Developing a survey research project
Select and complete one of the exercises outlined below. You are required to develop a research design
designed to answer ONE of the two research questions below.
In doing this you should:
1. Explain how you plan to answer the question.
2. Write a survey that will allow you to test your ideas. What questions are your dependent variable(s)
and substantive independent variables. Are there any other potentially confounding factors that you
will need to control for, and therefore collect data on?
3. Briefly outline what methods you will use to study the data collected through this survey.
When designing your research plan, including your survey, all documentation will need to be written in R
Markdown and you are required to justify why you made specific design decisions. You should outline your
survey design, the survey mode you are choosing to use. You should take into account the sample size needed
to provide the study with adequate power, sources of measurement error, and the specific design constraints
and opportunities inherent in the study you are undertaking.
1
Write everything in the RMD template provided in the module for this class on canvas. You will submit
your final written document (as a PDF) through a link that will be provided on canvas. You do not need
to spend more than one-and-a-half hours to complete this task, which can count towards (what was) your
group work grade.
Question 1
Drug use in Australia
You have been commissioned to write a report on the use of illicit drugs in the Australian population.
We want to ascertain the proportion of the population that uses illicit drugs, and what may shape these
behaviours. In particular, we are interested in:
• Has the respondent used illegal (or misused legal) drugs, and if so what kind.
• Does the respondent know other people who have used drugs and whether there is a network effect
involved in drug use.
• How age, education, socioeconomic status and gender influence drug use.
• Whether drug use is linked to other illegal or anti-social behaviour.
To do this you are expected to field a survey that ensures our results properly measure the use of this
behaviour in the community, and that our sample reflects the general population.
Design a survey research project to meet this brief. Write each question in the format you believe would
provide you with the most informative answer.
As you do so, include in the template (provided in canvas) an outline on the mode you would use to gather
these data, the sample size, whether you would you ask any other questions to increase the utility of the
survey, and any other design decisions you would make.
Question 2
Media effects on attitudes towards gun control
You have been commissioned to design a research project to measure of the causal effects media coverage of
gun crime has on support for stricter laws on the purchasing of firearms.
We want to ascertain whether higher coverage of general crime or mass shootings influences attitudes on:
• Perceived change in crime rate (and violent crime rate in particular).
• Support for a ban on different types of guns
• Support for bans on certain people (those with prior offences, for instance) from purchasing guns.
• Support for total gun bans.
When asking these questions we want to measure the possible causal effects media coverage may have on
respondents’ opinions on these issues. We also want to collect a survey sample that reflects the general
population.
Design a research project to meet this brief. Write each question in the format you believe would provide
you with the most informative answer.
As you do so, include in the template (provided in canvas) an outline on the mode you would use to gather
these data, the sample size, whether you would you ask any other questions to increase the utility of the
survey, and any other design decisions you would make.

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