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The Importance of Filling Out Surveys in Pencil


Claire Bias ’20, Music – Summer 2019

When everything is about data collection, analysis, and numbers it can be easy to forget about the individual. In all research that involves human subjects, it is imperative that the humanity of the participants be retained. The scribbles and pictures on the paper are a small expression of the uniqueness of that participant. The answers that are difficult to read used to be a nuisance, and sometimes they still are. But now when I see the scribbles all over a questionnaire, I laugh a little and think of the people that I am ultimately trying to help through my research.

This summer I have organized and entered nearly 1,900 individual questionnaires from BioGirls, a non-profit organization based in Fargo that seeks to increase self-esteem in adolescent girls. Participants meet once a week for 12 weeks and learn about building healthy relationships, kindness, self-care, and servant leadership. Creating a positive attitude towards physical activity is an essential part of the BIO Girls curriculum.

A pre and a post survey is given to the participants and their parents individually. My job is to enter the answers from those questionnaires into a statistical analysis software called SPSS. We are hoping to find evidence that the BIO Girls program produces increases in self-esteem.

One of my favorite parts of research has definitely been the interesting things that show up on the questionnaires (keep in mind that these are 7 and 12 year olds). This brings me to the piece of advice I mentioned before; virtually every questionnaire filled out by the participants is either in crayon or marker, which makes for a sticky situation. Especially, if you need to erase something. I have spent a lot of time trying to decode which bubble a participant intended to fill, but it can be extremely difficult when there are scribbles, circles, and arrows covering the paper in an attempt to denote the correct answer. I often end up making a note of it and enter the question as blank.

It’s very common to see multiple answers filled out or crayon scribbles all over the paper that render the questionnaire completely unreadable. Sometimes boxes are just left blank altogether! However, not all of these instances are hindrances; some are rather endearing. Participants will write short explanations as to why they answered the way they did. There is also a lot of creativity displayed and I often see doodles or random pictures drawn on the paper. At the end of the questionnaire there is a note that thanks the participants for their time. It is very heartwarming when there is a, “You’re welcome!”, or “Thank YOU!”, accompanied by a smiley face or a flower written on the paper. Occasionally a participant will leave a note saying how much fun they had at BIO Girls and that they were happy to be a part of it.

These encounters are small reminders of the real people who are attached to these questionnaires. Sometimes spending hours entering numbers into a computer feels a little tedious or pointless. Seeing the personality of the participants coming through on the paper of the questionnaires reminds me of why I am doing what I’m doing, (but you should still have people fill out surveys in pencil, it’s easier that way).