Freedom to design questionnaires
|Freedom, as our political masters tell us, comes with responsibilities. Scanning questionnaires using optical character recognition is no exception. By contrast to last month's pick of three design-and-scan systems, we now switch to "legacy" systems that will cope with any OCR-defined form. Design-and-scan systems make it hard to produce a questionnaire that will not scan, though this can constrain the overall design of the form and is no help if you do not have control over the design process. Legacy systems, with the freedom to design questionnaires in Word or any DTP package place responsibility on the user to understand and apply the rules of the OCR game in producing a scannable document.
The point of entry with any legacy system is the "mark-up" module. You scan a blank questionnaire then mark out questions and answers on screen, pointing and clicking with your mouse. After that, scanning takes place, followed by verification and editing, as with design systems.
There are several OCR forms processing packages on the market. But mr users should be wary, as very few are adapted to the particular needs of survey processing. Systems need to cope with a high turnover of different form types without minimal set-up, handle multicoded data, coding of openended questions and deliver data in a recognisable mr-format, not just shoved into a database with no accompanying description and text labels. Of the specialist legacy systems on the market, only Bellview Scan and Eyes & Hands are truly mr-friendly.
Eyes & Hands is the more mature of the two, having started out 10 years ago when OCR still stood for "outstanding courage required". It has broadened from being mr-specific to a cross-industry tool for automated document handling. In doing so, it seems to have lost some of its mr-specific focus. Fast and accurate text recognition is its real strength. This is a system which exudes industrial strength and is an excellent choice where volumes are high, but has not lost key simplicity at set-up and run time. Its links to other modules such as invoice processing or archiving will make it attractive to large corporate users.
|If you dig down, you find a lot of mr-specific support, such as routing, multi-response, and export options to SPSS, plus links to Quantum and In2quest. It is a very open system, and lets you add in your own routines written in Microsoft VBA, which is a fairly simple programming language. This only partly compensates for the lack of support for coding openended questions where you are left very much to your own devices. Eyes & Hands does not provide much in the way of metadata (importable data definitions) beyond question names. The rest must be entered with care into whatever analysis tools you are using.
Research International has been using Eyes & Hands in London to process large self-completion consumer studies for 18 months. RI had experimented previously with one of the non-mr specific packages and has found Eyes & Hands to be a much better solution. Jane Wilson, Technical Director of RI Service Measurement, told Research, "The beauty of Eyes & Hands from my point of view is it is simple to set up the questionnaires and it is very accurate with self completion. There are only four processes, so it is really simple to use. I think the recognition is the best available. My only criticism is, I wish some of the more specific things such as open-ended coding were included as a part of the standard package."
Bellview Scan is very much an mr-specific solution. At its core is an ingenious "workflow" model that allows you to separate out tasks and perform them in any order you wish, within the bounds of common sense. Ultimately, this offers much greater operational flexibility and lets you get at important parts of the data sooner. Open-ends are well supported, with on-screen coding and codeframe development, plus a handy feature to print sorted, filtered summaries of verbatim responses as graphic images, exactly as written. Export, to the triple-S standard, provides data and descriptions for a wide range of analysis packages.
|'Estée Lauder in the United States has recently replaced a DOS-based optical mark reading system with Bellview Scan to read and process the 370 plus consumer product testing surveys carried out annually. Questionnaires are designed in Word, and even surveys of 50 respondents are set up for scanning.
Servicing a diverse internal market of twelve different companies within the Estée Lauder umbrella, research manager Theresa Block is in no doubt about the benefits. "This program has been a lifesaver for us. It has really changed how we do things and moved our department ahead technically. It has definitely made collecting our data easier and allows us more flexibility in how we design questionnaires than with our old system. In our department, we are responsible for every step of the project process - from the research design, to questionnaire development through to written analysis&emdash; so in our case we need something that is as quick and "user friendly" as possible that will get the data out accurately."
Ms Block stressed the need for attention to detail when designing the questionnaire, otherwise forms will fail to scan and pointed out the large number of steps involved with the Bellview process that initially present quite a learning curve. She concluded: "Scanning is a much more user friendly way of capturing the data and I find it to be more accurate than keying it in, or hand tabbing.
Finally, although covered last month, Mercator's SNAP Scan deserves a second mention here. Uniquely, a separate legacy module also lets you process forms not designed in SNAP. The process is very similar, whether the document comes from SNAP or an external source. If you do not need character recognition beyond simple numbers, SNAP Scan, with its dual capabilities and integrated analysis, provides a very credible all-round solution at a reasonable price.
Readsoft, Mercator and Pulse Train all report a surge in interest in scanning. With the benefits of cost, speed and accuracy, OCR for questionnaires is a perfect example of how technology can both save you money and do a better job.
|Bellview Scan||Best MR Functionality||A lot of steps
|Eyes & Hands||Industrial integrity||No coding
|SNAP Scan||Good all-rounder||Tickboxes and numbers only
Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, August 1999, Issue 399.
© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.
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