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Designing and Implementing Mobile Web Surveys

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Designing and Implementing Mobile Web Surveys

Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are increasingly being used by respondents to complete Web surveys. This presents a number of design challenges for survey researchers. Smartphones also offer a number of added possibilities for survey designers, such as the use of GPS to track movement, apps to trigger measurement at set times (ecological momentary assessment), the possibility of capturing images, and other features. This course will focus on the design implications of the rise of mobile device use for survey research. The research evidence will be reviewed, and the various options for accommodating mobile Web users will be discussed. The challenges of using the enhanced features of mobile phones for general population surveys will also be reviewed. The course is focused on situations where respondents are using their own devices, i.e., the designer has little control over the device used. Participants are encouraged to bring their own example surveys to the course to discuss.

The course covers:

  • The rise in mobile Web use
  • Coverage and nonresponse implications of mobile Web
  • How to identify mobile Web users (user agent strings and paradata)
  • How Web surveys on a mobile device are different from those on a PC
  • How to design Web surveys to accommodate mobile users
  • Challenges and opportunities of exploiting the features of mobile surveys


By the end of the course participants will:

  • Understand the varieties and uses of paradata in Web surveys
  • Have the knowledge or tools to collect, process, and analyse paradata
  • Understand how to extract meaning from paradata

Course Code


Course Date

8th December 2017

Course Leader

Professor Mick Couper
Course Description
  • Introduction and overview of course
  • What do we mean by mobile Web? Dimensions or characteristics of mobile devices
  • Different approaches to mobile Web: new opportunities versus completion of Web surveys on mobile devices
  • Sampling, coverage, and nonresponse issues
  • Detecting mobile Web use
  • Approaches to dealing with mobile Web users
  • Mobile optimization
  • Designing Web surveys to accommodate mobile users: general design issues
  • Designing Web surveys to accommodate users: dealing with specific question types
  • Wrap-up and class discussion


Detailed programme to follow

Target Audience


This intermediate course is intended primarily for academic and government researchers designing or conducting Web surveys primarily for general population surveys or online access panels (rather than small groups of volunteers). It is intended as an introductory overview of the issues introduced by the rise of mobile Web devices, and as such is intended for all levels, and for any discipline.




Familiarity with designing and conducting Web surveys will be assumed.


Preparatory Reading


The following serves as a brief introduction to the issues:

Buskirk, T.D., and Andrus, C. (2012), “Smart Surveys for Smart Phones: Exploring Various Approaches for Conducting Online Mobile Surveys via Smartphones.” Survey Practice, 5 (1), available at: http://www.surveypractice.org/index.php/SurveyPractice/issue/view/19


The following summarizes recent literature on the topic and will be covered in the course:

Couper, M.P., Antoun, C., and Mavletova, A. (2017), “Mobile Web Surveys: A Total Survey Error Perspective.” In P. Biemer, S. Eckman, B. Edwards, E. de Leeuw, F. Kreuter, L. Lyberg, C. Tucker, and B. West (eds.), Total Survey Error in Practice. New York: Wiley, pp. 133-154.


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