Thursday, April 20, 2017

Survey Says ...

There's a survey-based story in today's The Red & Black about how students pay for college. Good idea for a story and it includes lots of useful information and interviews, so I'm not nitpicking the story so much as I am the survey itself, which is what I do given I also teach Grady's graduate public opinion class. Here's a key graf:
The Red & Black completed a survey in which 100 UGA students shared their own encounters with payments throughout college and found over half of respondents have their rent and utilities paid for by their parents.
First let's go with the information provided. A sample size of 100 means the margin of error is 10 percent. That means the 49.5 percent who do not consider themselves financially independent could actually be between 39.5 and 59.5 percent, and a 10 percent MOE means some of the results are actually statistical ties. And that assumes it's a random sample, which is the only kind in which you can truly apply a margin of error. We don't get a lot of methodological detail here. How was the survey conducted? When? How were respondents selected? Is this a convenience sample? A SLOP?

In fairness to the audience you should make clear in a sentence or two how the survey was conducted, and if it's non-scientific, say so high in the story so the reader can approach it with healthy skepticism.  If that's in the story and I missed it, please let me know.

Finally, a journalism point. A survey of 100 is really more of a man-on-the-street approach, but on steroids given we often interview at most six people in that sort of thing.

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