Latest Post: The First Mistake in Crafting Survey Experiments

In the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of teaching on the topic of survey experiments, motivated by the dearth of accessible guides to conducting survey-experimental research aside from Mutz’s (2011) Population-Based Survey Experiments. The way I teach this course is being first outlining the logic of experimental design in general and then walk participants through how to use survey experimental manipulations to operationalize variations in potentially causal variables. The starting point is alway theory, from which manipulations and outcome questions are derived. The reason for teaching this way is that first-time experimenters frequently have a survey background (or no background at all in empirical research) and believe that the starting point of a survey experiment is the questionnaire. This is a first and often final, fatal mistake. (It is trivial whether this approach takes place in a word document or in survey software, the error is starting with a questionnaire at all.) Aside from the fact that starting from a questionnaire is an error-prone preparation for fieldwork that is likely to introduce trivial, easily missed typographical errors, the decision to design the survey before designing the experiment is very likely to lead a new experimenter astray.

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