HR Guide to the Internet:
Compensation: On-Line Salary surveys: Implementing Web Technology

Questions to Ask When Designing
an On-Line Salary Survey

Some important questions need to be answered when designing an on-line salary survey. There are no 'right' answers to these questions. The answers depend on your needs when designing the survey and the application environment you are using.

Where will the data be stored? Depending on the application environment, it may be possible to store the data directly on the web server. The data may also be stored on the user's web browser. Some salary surveys are conducted using diskettes where the questionnaire and the data are stored on the diskette. If the data is stored on the user's web browser, then provisions have to be made for transmitting the data for more permanent storage and analysis.

How will data entered by the user be sent to your computer? Data that has been entered on the web may be submitted in one of several ways. Data may be sent electronically (using the CGI protocol) to a server based application for storage or may be sent to you by e-mail. The e-mail method isn't as good as it might sound, since usually a great deal of formatting is required to make the message useful. When designing a survey questionnaire to collect data through the web keep in mind that data is submitted for a form that is displayed in HTML format. Only the data elements between the 'begin' and 'end' form tags in the HTML document will be submitted. Although a document may have more than one set of form tags, only one form may be submitted at a time. And unless you have written a complicated JavaScript function, only one form will be submitted when the user presses a 'submit' button.

Does the application provide for data validation? The advantage of choosing a computer to collect data is at the computer may be able to correct mistakes made by the user. These mistakes maybe as simple as forgetting to enter information into a required field or may be as complicated as checking the relationships between various fields. If you are designing a server based application, then the validation is performed after the form has been submitted and should be performed before data is stored on the server. For client based applications, data validation is performed once the user enters the information into fields. Since the data validation is performed by the users' web browser for client based applications, data entry errors can be corrected before being submitted. Also, using a client based application, it is easier to provide more informative feedback to the user since the data validation routines would be stored with the data entry form.

How does the user get a printout of their data? Almost all Windows based applications have printing capabilities built into the software. However, for suvey questionnaires that require more than one web page, the user must print each individual page. Options for application development include reformatting the data so it may be printed by the user. Also, if the user is sent a copy of their data through e-mail, then they may use be printing features of their e-mail software.

What security protocols are in place to prevent unauthorized access to data? There are a variety of security protocols that may be used for protecting data and preventing unauthorized access to the application. However, some methods may be easier to manage depending on the number of users and levels of access required. If you want to develop a complex salary survey application with different features and have users with varrying levels of access, then you may need to develop access functions into the survey application. If you have a single application or have users with only one level of access, then you may not need to develop access functions directly into the software and should be able to protect your application at the directory level through the operating system.

How can the computer identify who is entering data? You may develop an application that requires user authentication before they can access the program. Or you may want to develop an application that is generally accessible by anyone but has certain fields used to identify survey participants. These fields could be name and address, or a survey participant ID field.

Can the user edit data that they entered previously? This functionality is easy to do in a server based application. For client based applications, the data must be stored in such a way that the user can access the data again if needed. This may be accomplished by storing the user's data directly on their web browser (through the use of 'cookies'), or by storing a reference marker to their data on their web browser. A reference marker is used by the server application to identify the appropriate data set to retrieve and update. When the user accesses the application, their reference marker is read and the information sent to the server which retrieves the dataset and sends the data back to the client's browser.

How long will the computer store the user's data? Data stored on a web server may be permanent. However, data stored on a user's client browser software should be considered transient with a lifespan of only a few months. Remember, users may upgrade their web browser software and or computer system and in the process eliminate the data previously stored on their computer.

How easily can the data be entered by the user? On-line forms should be designed as simple as possible. unnecessary text or information displayed on the computer screen may result in increased entry errors and confusion of the part of the user.

Will users be required to answer certain questionnaire items? One of the advantages of collecting information through the computer is that the computer is able to monitor the data entry and can notify the user if they have neglected to enter information into a required field.

How closely will the on-line survey match a printed copy? Any survey that is conducted using a printed format with an option to complete the questionnaire on-line should have a close match between the electronic and printed versions. However, the unique characteristics of on-line data entry may require that certain text (usually instructions) be worded differently.

Will printed copies of the survey be mailed to participants? Although on-line data entry may eliminate the need for sending forms using postal mail, unless the user has a form sitting on their desk, they may forget to complete the form on-line.

How will the user navigate between the different screens or sections of the survey questionnaire? On-line questionnaires may consist of one or more web pages. The advantage of putting the entire questionnaire onto a single web page is that only one form needs to be submitted. This is a significant advantage if designing a client based application. However, some web browsers are limited in the number of data entry fields they will display on a single web page. Breaking the questionnaire into several web pages (one for each section of the questionnaire) has an advantage in that the server application to receive and store the data only has to work with a small set of the data at any one time. This follows the server application development in that the application is developed one section at a time.

What software will be used to design the application? C, Visual Basic, Perl, C++, HTML, Java, JavaScript, SQL, etc. etc. . The list is almost endless. However, the options available to you will be limited by the environment in which you will be developing your application. All of these languages have strengths and weaknesses.

How easily can the application be modified or tailored for a purpose? The tools that are available for editing and updating the application questionnaire depend on the application environment and software purchased to manage the project. There are many programs that can be purchased to create HTML pages and assist in authoring computer code. You should have an understanding of the limitations of the software before you decide to make a purchase.

Will the application require a certain level of expertise on the part of the user? Some applications are easy to fill out while others require the user to enter information in a pre-formatted maner.

Will the application have on-line help and or instructions? On-line help is best administered using a client based application. On-line help with server based applications usually requires the application to open additional windows to service the help text or requires the user to select hypertext links to other documents. These approaches tend to lead the user away from the survey questionnaire and may make it difficult to return. On-line help in the form of JavaScript alerts are the most user friendly. However, they require the user to have a browser capable of executing JavaScript.

Will users be required to use other software in order to access the survey questionnaire? Some salary surveys conducted are through spreadsheet software. This software is usually written as a spreadsheet macro and requires an advanced spreadsheet application.

How many keystrokes will it take to enter a response? Hopefully not many--from the users perspective. Data entry should be reduced to the minimum number of keystrokes. Try to index or sort list boxes so that users may easily identify the correct response. Long scrolling list boxes are difficult to navigate.

How flexible will the application be in accepting different formats of data from users? The best kind of data entry software is one that accepts multiple types of input from users. For example, will the software accept commas or dollar signs in numeric fields?


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