Survey Software Logic I
Logic capabilities are a key differentiator between more basic and more advanced survey software. Logic lets you adapt your surveys to better fit each person taking them and to collect more reliable data.
Basic programs offer at most limited logic capabilities. Many programs offer basic branching. For example, you might have a question asking people their gender and then have the next question asked whether they have ever been pregnant. Basic branching would let you skip over that question about pregnancy when someone indicates they are a man. Somewhat more advanced logic would let you have the question about pregnancy later in the survey and still have men skip over it.
Another fairly basic ability is often called piping. This feature lets you show the answer to one question in the text of a later question. For example, you could have a question asking people to name their favorite magazine and follow it up with an open-ended question asking them why they prefer [that magazine], with the magazine they chose appearing in place of “that magazine.”
Somewhat more sophisticated programs let you randomize the order in which a series of answer choices are presented or the order in which a series of questions are asked. This is an important feature. The order in which answer choices are presented or in which questions are asked can affect the answers you receive. For this reason randomizing answer choice order and question order can lead to more reliable data. Basic randomization would let you present a list in random order. More capable programs will let you exclude one or more choices from the randomization. For example you may ask people with which of the following health clinics they are familiar and include the choices “none” and “don’t know.” It is good research practice to present a list of clinics in a random order, but you should always show those last two choices at the bottom.
There are also simpler and more flexible versions of randomizing question order. The simple version just lets you show the next X questions in a random order. The more flexible version would let you keep groups of questions together, while randomizing the groups. For example, you might have three questions about each of five products. You could ask about the five products in a random order, while keeping all three questions about each product together.
More on survey software logic in Part II.