• Journal Article

Total survey error: Design, implementation, and evaluation


Biemer, P. (2010). Total survey error: Design, implementation, and evaluation. Public Opinion Quarterly, 74(5), 817-848.


The total survey error (TSE) paradigm provides a theoretical framework for optimizing surveys by maximizing data quality within budgetary constraints. In this article, the TSE paradigm is viewed as part of a much larger design strategy that seeks to optimize surveys by maximizing total survey quality; i.e., quality more broadly defined to include user-specified dimensions of quality. Survey methodology, viewed within this larger framework, alters our perspectives on the survey design, implementation, and evaluation. As an example, although a major objective of survey design is to maximize accuracy subject to costs and timeliness constraints, the survey budget must also accommodate additional objectives related to relevance, accessibility, interpretability, comparability, coherence, and completeness that are critical to a survey's “fitness for use.” The article considers how the total survey quality approach can be extended beyond survey design to include survey implementation and evaluation. In doing so, the “fitness for use” perspective is shown to influence decisions regarding how to reduce survey error during design implementation and what sources of error should be evaluated in order to assess the survey quality today and to prepare for the surveys of the future.