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SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Centre for English Language Communication

National University of Singapore

Conducting Primary Research

There are mainly two types of research: primary and secondary research. Primary research is
obtained first hand by the researcher. You may use, for example, experimentation, focus
groups, observations, interviews and surveys to collect information. On the other hand,
secondary research involves the researcher gathering information from published or
unpublished materials. It should be noted that a single method to gather information for
research does not necessarily mean that the conclusions drawn are absolutely correct. It is
always better to use evidence from more than one source before making any conclusions.
This tutorial focuses on the use of surveys to obtain data. A survey aims at presenting views
of a large population. It involves identifying the sample, carefully considered to be a
representation of the population, and the size of the sample before information can be
Research Considerations
Some factors to consider in conducting a survey are as follows:
Reliability and Validity
The nature of the sample to be surveyed will depend on your objectives of the study for
which it is designed. As you have to extrapolate from the results of the sample to draw
conclusions about the huge target population, you have to collect reliable data from a
representative group. One way to choose such a group is to use stratified random sampling.
This contains representatives from each subgroup that has a fair cross section of
representatives from the total population. In this way, the results will be better balanced.
The sample size or number of subjects in your research should be large enough to be
statistically significant, although it is dependent on the size of the target population. For
SP1203 you need to survey a minimum of 50 people.
You will need to consider how best to distribute your surveys. While distributing a survey via
email or the internet is clearly the most cost-effective and convenient method, you need to
think about whether there might be bias which may impact the results. This is because the
profile of the internet user may not represent the general population.
Survey research can be divided into two categories. The first is a fact-finding survey which
involves asking respondents about their income, age or sex. It could also include questions on
their diet, habits, medication, or the type of ailments they are suffering from. It provides
objective information and does not involve questions relating to judgment or personal
attitudes. The second kind of survey asks respondents to reveal information about their
feelings, express their values and beliefs, and weigh up alternatives. This type of survey asks
for more subjective information than mere reporting of facts.

SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

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Ethical Considerations
In the collection of data, researchers should be ethical, practicing the principles of honesty
and integrity. The data collected should be kept confidential and used only for the purposes
originally specified.
Researchers should respect the rights of those participating in the research and avoid any
harm to them. When you ask participants to complete a questionnaire, they have a right to
reject you. Sometimes, depending on the degree of personal involvement on the part of
participants, you may need a written consent from them. Sometimes, depending on your area
of discipline, you may need to get prior approval from an ethics committee to ensure the
design of your research includes appropriate measures to protect the interests of the
participants. As long as the information obtained is recorded in such a manner that your
subjects can be identified, directly or indirectly, you will need to submit your research
proposal to an ethics committee for approval. It is advisable, hence, that you do not request
information that is private and identifies the subject. For more information see
It is recommended that you do not ask for respondents personal medical history. For
instance, a question about how many minutes a person exercises each week is appropriate.
One on the types of medicine prescribed is not.
Reliability and Validity
Reliability refers to the issue of whether others doing your research under the same
conditions will find the same results. If a survey questionnaire is administered to the
same participants on different occasions and the results produced are the same on
each occasion, then the survey results are reliable. This is why the questions should be
well-constructed so every respondent will understand and interpret all questions in the
same way. The reliability of the results is also dependent on a certain sample size for
the results to be statistically significant.
Validity relates to whether your research tool actually tests what you set out to test. Hence,
the quality of your research tool how thoroughly it is designed and how well it is executed
is important. In other words, irrelevant questions cause the questionnaire to be invalid and
will not produce a reliable study.


SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Activity 1
1. You want to find out whether a branded coffee shop will attract customers on campus.
Which question is reliable? Explain your choice.
(a) Do you like high quality pastry?
(b) How much are you willing to pay for a pastry?
Less than $2
Between $2 and $2.50
More than $2.60
2. You want to find out whether a branded coffee shop will attract customers on campus.
Which question is valid? Explain your choice.
(a) How much do you like coffee?
(b) How many times a month would you visit a coffee shop on campus?
1-2 times
3-4 times
More than 5 times
3. You want to determine how patients self-medicate.
Are these questions reliable/valid? Explain your answers.
(a) It is safe to take many Panadol tablets in one day.
(b) Please list what you do when you have a cold.
(c) We should be prescribed antibiotics when we have the flu. Circle your choice.


(d) Tick the kind of natural supplement(s) that you take.

Food supplements
Herbal products
(e) Vitamin C relieves cold symptoms. Reliable and valid


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Research Objectives
Many scientific investigations begin with a theoretical question. This is then stated as an
assumption which serves as the hypothesis of the research project. The hypothesis serves as a
prediction about the outcome of the study, expressing the researchers supposition. Research
is needed to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
Theoretical Question: Do patients adhere to
the instructions on how to take their

Hypothesis: Patients take medicine

according to their perception of how ill they
are, rather than follow the instructions given.

Your hypothesis is based on


The hypothesis reflects the aim

of the study.

What questions should you ask

to get the results to prove or
disprove your statement?

Activity 2
Look at the above example of a research question and hypothesis. Devise three relevant
questions you would ask to get the results to prove or disprove your statement.


SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Questionnaire Design Considerations

One of the most common tools to gather data is the questionnaire. A questionnaire is a datagathering and analysis approach in which respondents answer questions or respond to
statements that were developed in advance. A questionnaire is likely to include questions on
both facts and opinions.
Types of questions
An understanding of the types of questions commonly used in questionnaire surveys will help
you decide on the appropriate question types in order to solicit the information that you need.
There are two types of questions: open-ended or unstructured questions and close-ended or
structured questions.
Open-ended questions allow free response from your respondents. They are used when you
cannot anticipate a range of possible answers. Such a wide range of answers is useful to
reflect the complexity of the views held by the respondents. However, such questions require
much effort from the respondents and much analysis from you as it is difficult to categorize
the answers.
Close-ended questions provide clear and limited choices for the respondents to select. While
closed items are easy to tabulate for analysis, they need to be crafted carefully to ensure that
it is possible for the respondents to give an answer that properly reflects their situation or
The following are types of close-ended questions:
Question type




Respondents are asked to

choose between two
alternatives. A third choice
Undecided may be

It is safe to take a maximum of 5

Panadol tablets (each tablet is 500 mg)
a day.
a) True
b) False
c) Undecided


Respondents select one or

more choices from three or
more possibilities.

Which of the following are symptoms

related to drug allergy? You may tick
more than one.


Respondents are asked to

check more than one

In the list that follows, use an X to

check each of the natural supplements
you take:


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Session 4

Respondents are asked

their opinions or feelings
about a particular topic or
issue. There may be as
many as seven choices.

We should be prescribed antibiotics

when we have the flu.


Respondents are asked to

rank in order a list of
items. This type determines

Please rank in order the importance of

the benefits you can get from taking
health supplements by placing a 1
beside the most important benefit, a
2 beside your second, etc.:


Respondents are asked to

give short answers because
you cannot predetermine
all possible choices.

Please list the kind of self-prescribed

medicine you take when you have a



Personal information should only be asked if it is absolutely vital to your research. It may be
placed at the beginning or end of the questionnaire. Give a range to choose from instead of
asking them to provide a blank for them to fill in. For example, you may write:
21-30 31-40
Education IT Administration
Sales & Marketing
School level: Lower secondary Upper secondary JC University
Crafting the questions
Provide clear instructions by instructing the respondents to circle, tick or provide
short answers. If you want the respondents to choose from a scale of 1 to 5, state
clearly what 1 and 5 represent.
Write simply, clearly and keep the questions short. You have to avoid ambiguous,
vague, leading, loaded and compound questions. Moreover, avoid words which may
cause offence, especially in a multi-racial country like Singapore.
Organization of the questionnaire
Keep the questionnaire short (about 10 12 questions).
Try to keep your questionnaire to 12 pages; the respondent should not take more
than 10-15 minutes to complete it.
Determine if each question is providing you with information that you need. Any
question that is not providing necessary information should be removed. If you can
obtain the information from another source, you do not need to ask the question.
Place the easiest / straightforward or least contentious questions first and the difficult
ones at the end. This encourages the respondents to complete the questionnaire.
Pay attention to the categorization and numbering of the questions so you can tabulate
your data easily. Use sub-headings if necessary.


SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Design and layout

Make your questionnaire visually attractive.
Make sure the questions are easy to read.
Have sufficient white space and leave space for responses.
Use appropriate styles of font type and printing.
Steps in designing a questionnaire

1. Review the
research question

2. Determine your
sample or subjects

3. Decide how you

will distribute the

6. Revise the

5. Trial or pre-test
the questionnaire

4. Create the

7. Distribute the

If you are not distributing the questionnaire personally, write a cover letter to explain why
you are conducting the survey.
State who you are.
Give the objective of the study.
Explain what you might do with the data.
Ensure confidentiality.
Provide instructions on when you need the questionnaire to be completed.


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Session 4

Below is an example of a cover letter.

How Singaporeans use their prescription medicine

Title of the project

22 August 2013


Dear Participant


We are second year Pharmacy students from the National University of State who you are.
Singapore (NUS), Faculty of Science, who have to design a health
communication campaign and a research poster as partial fulfillment
for our Foundation in Effective Communication module.
State the objective
As little is known about whether Singaporeans follow instructions
of the study.
when taking their medicine, the objective of this survey is to gather
Explain what you
information about how Singaporeans use their prescription medicine.
might do with the
The results of the survey will be used for the projects in this module.
Please help us by completing the questionnaire. To ensure
confidentiality, please do not identify yourself in any way on the
questionnaire, that is, do not give us your name, identification card
number, address and contact number.

Request help.

Thank you very much for your assistance.

Tan Swee Moi

Kenneth Wee

_______________ Give signatures,

Zhu Xueling
names and contact


SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Activity 3
Examine the following questionnaire, and comment on its strengths and weaknesses, based
on what you have learned about designing a questionnaire.
Objective: To survey the general public on their awareness of safe practices in the use of

When should a sterile eye drop be discarded after opening?

a) After 1 month
b) After 3 months
c) After 6 months
d) Not sure

2. Steroidal cream containing 1% Hydrocortisone (rash cream) can be applied frequently

and liberally on affected area where necessary.
a) True
b) False
c) Not sure

It is important to complete a course of antibiotics because

a) The course of the antibiotic is meant to completely inactivate the bacteria.
b) If the invading bacteria were not completely inactivated, they may build resistance
against antibiotic. Not clearly distinct from (a).
c) It is the instruction given by the doctor.


Which of the following are symptoms related to drug allergy?

(iii) Diarrhea
Swelling of eyes

(i) and (iii)

(i) and (ii)
(iii) and (iv)
(ii) and (iv)

5. What is the daily recommended maximum number of Panadol tablets (500 mg) that a
person may consume?
a) 6
b) 8
c) 10
d) 12
6. It is safe to take the left over antibiotic medications from a relative in the family if your
symptoms appear to be similar to those experienced by your relative.
a) True
b) False
c) Not sure

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Session 4

How long do you keep unused medication (e.g. Aspirin tablets) you bought from the
Retail Pharmacy?
a) 3 months
b) 1 year
c) Until the date of expiry on the package

8. Where do you think you should be storing your unused medications (e.g. tablets, cough
mixture, medicated cream etc.) at home?
a) in the refrigerator
b) in a drawer in the kitchen
c) in a drawer in the dining/living room


How frequently should you be checking the unused medicine at home to ensure that it is
safe for consumption?
a) every 6 months
b) once a year
c) once in 3 years

10. Are you confident enough to ensure that the way you consume medications (whether
prescription medication or self-medication) is a safe practice?
a) Yes
b) No
c) Not sure

Activity 4
In your project groups, do the following:
1. Identify a health issue and target group of you would like to focus your study on.
2. Narrow your topic to one suitable for a short survey. For instance, Smoking cessation
is too broad. Role of family in smoking cessation is better. Your library research can
give you ideas on how to further define your topic.
3. Formulate a research question for your research that would provide you with the
information you need for your article, poster and oral presentation tasks.
4. Complete the Health Communication Proposal form so that you are all clear about the
objectives of the survey you are about to conduct. Show this to your tutor at the next
session when you pilot the questionnaire.
5. Design a questionnaire to collect the information you need. Have a pilot questionnaire
ready by the next class session.

Points to note:
Your target group could be selected based on age, gender or a common health issue
such as smoking.
The research question should be related to the theme of persuading the general public
to adopt healthy behavior. You might want to read Lipowskis article Developing
Great Research Questions on IVLE for some guidance on formulating your research

SP1203 Foundation in Effective Communication

Session 4

Your survey is the means by which you identify the determinants of healthy behavior
for your target population, i.e. the reasons for which they perform or do not perform
certain healthy behavior.
Consider if it is necessary to use other primary research methods such as observation
and interviews to gather additional information before or after you conduct your
You will pilot this questionnaire in the following tutorial session, so you should
prepare copies for the tutor and other students in your class to complete the

Chew ML & Lee KC. The Science of Effective Communication in the Workplace. Singapore: Pearson
Prentice Hall; 2006.
Denscombe M. The Good Research Guide. Philadelphia: Open University Press; 2003.
Lipowski EE. Research fundamentals: Developing great research questions. Amer J of Health-Sys
Pharm. 2008;65:1667-70.
tigators/AJHPResearchFundamentalsSeries/Developinggreatresearchquestions.aspx. Accessed 2011
Aug 1.
Material originally developed by Wu SM and Richard D, revised by Lee KM. Survey samples credited to Chan PKs Breeze lecture on
surveys, and Chui WK.