Library: Paper and Pencil Research vs.


While traditional "paper and pencil" research methods will always play a critical role in social science research, they also suffer from serious weaknesses, drawbacks, and risks to data integrity. The need for improvements to these traditional methods becomes very clear when one considers the important role that data from social science research plays in the development of public policy, theory, and practice. If data is not accurate, secure, and reliable then one's ability to make an important contribution can be severely compromised.

Paper and Pencil Research

Despite their important role in helping to establish the social sciences, traditional data collection methods are fraught with variables that threaten the integrity of data such as creating hundreds of copies that must be accurate and complete, collating, packaging, transporting, multiple data handlers, various levels of investment, error-prone data-entry, and so forth. In addition, paper and pencil research methods are surprisingly expensive when all costs are considered (including materials and labor). For example, consider just the labor costs (i.e., graduate assistant hours) associated with developing, mailing, unpacking, and entering the data from 2000-3000 paper surveys.

Perhaps most worrisome is the fact that traditional methods fail completely on occasion. We have all heard the stories that result from such failures: (a) a graduate student spend $700 to mail out 600 paper surveys and gets 30 back, effectively delaying graduation by 1-2 years, (b) a faculty member's computer crashes - resulting in the loss of three years data entry, (c) a package of 400 completed surveys mysteriously disappears in the mail, (d) a research-assistant carelessly enters data for 1000 paper surveys resulting in inaccurate analyses, or (e) a graduate student's car is stolen along with a box containing 150 completed paper surveys for her dissertation.

If it is possible that traditional methods can produce such failures on occasion, it is reasonable to assume that less dramatic forms of loss and error occur in research on a frequent basis. These smaller forms of loss and error (i.e., lost or excluded cases, missing answers, inaccurate data entry, etc.) translate into reduced contributions to the literature and society. Furthermore, if the expense, difficulty, and risk associated with traditional methods is sufficient enough to prohibit the completion of some research projects, then these methods function as a detriment to the field rather than a critical tool.

Make no mistake, paper and pencil research will always be an important tool simply because some research will never be appropriate for the Internet (i.e., populations without computer access). However, most survey research can be quickly and easily completed with reduced costs and increased security by using PsychData.

PsychData Research

PsychData eliminates the large majority of problems associated with paper and pencil methods. Response rates are almost always higher over the internet, costs can be dramatically reduced (especially for large studies), lost or corrupted data can easily be downloaded again, data is never lost at the post-office, and the expensive and error-prone process of data entry is simply eliminated. Furthermore, once your survey is activated at PsychData the only thing you have to do is send your participants. As soon as a participant completes your online survey, you have your data, end of story.

Is it easy to put a survey online?
Absolutely. With our Survey Editor, your survey can be up and running in our specialized Secure Survey Environment in 30 minutes for a brief survey or a handful of hours for a dissertation-level project. If you can browse the web and use a word processor, then you can put your research online with PsychData.

Can PsychData reduce errors due to a participant's survey behavior?
Yes. With PsychData there is no handwriting to scrutinize, no lost or crumpled pages, no vague or confusing write-in answers, questions can be required (i.e., the participant will be prompted if they attempt to skip), and our Secure Survey Environment is specifically designed to reduce potential participant errors on the Internet.

Is the transmission of data over the Internet safe?
Transmitting data over the Internet is safer than paper-and-pencil research. Think about it: In a traditional paper and pencil project, how many people have access to the paper research materials and identifying information? Paper based research data is constantly at risk for being in the wrong hands because it is a tangible object. With PsychData, the only person who has access to your data is you. In addition, an online survey with PsychData affords your participants greater privacy than traditional methods (imagine completing a sensitive survey in an auditorium of peers). Finally, the same technology used to protect credit-card transactions worldwide is used to protect your data when submitted by a participant. (Click here for a further discussion of security at PsychData.)

What happens if my computer crashes and I lose my data?
Because your data is stored on our server for the duration of your survey, just download it again—we back it up for you.


Paper and pencil research methods will always play an important role in social science research. However, these methods are expensive, time consuming, and put the integrity of your data at risk. PsychData empowers researchers to utilize the vast power and reach of the Internet while simultaneously helping researchers to avoid the majority of problems associated with paper and pencil methods. The researcher who chooses to use PsychData will work less, spend less, and accomplish more.


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—Amy O'Donnell,
   Graduate Student,
   Counseling Psychology,
   Central Washington University

"PsychData offers exceptional customer service, and the faculty rave about the ease of using PsychData for conducting their research."

—Rene Paulson, Ph.D.,
   Texas Woman's University