Article #48: Dimensions from SPSS MR

Tim Macer considers the beta test versions of the first three products from a new range from SPSS MR

New Dimensions


Last year's big technology story was that SPSS MR, the number one specialist survey software supplier, was going to rewrite its range of market research products, from start to finish. Then, the concept was called 'Vision 2000'. Now, as the first new products emerge, the name is 'Dimensions', reflecting what SPSS sees as the four dimensions to the research process: survey design, data collection, data analysis and publishing.
At present, only a part of one dimension has emerged, in the form of beta test versions of three new utilities: mrPaper, a bridge between the questionnaire design stage and Word; mrTranslate, for multilingual surveys and mrScan for optical scanning of questionnaires using the reliable Eyes and Hands engine.
Eventually, SPSS will produce a brand new visual questionnaire builder, but for the time being this is achieved using either Quanquest or In2quest (though not, Surveycraft, the casualty of the consolidation). While both these programs previously had a capability to get a Word document out, you were limited in what you could do. Only in Word could you see how you wanted to reformat questions and improve their appearance. But any formatting improvements were lost as soon as you had to go back to the original questionnaire to add more questions or change the text.
What makes mrPaper revolutionary is that you can make formatting changes to your questionnaire in Word and save them so that if you subsequently change your questionnaire, all your formatting decisions can be reapplied. This is done in a very elegant and sophisticated way by providing you with a series of 'looks'. These are similar to Word styles, but go much further, as they apply to whole questions or parts of questions.
mrPaper, mrTranslate, mrScan: pros and cons
Easy to use
Strong and flexible
Innovative product for paper questionnaires

Sluggish performance
Only works with Quanquest and In2quest

Click for full size image

The presentation of the software shows a commitment to design

The elegance comes from the fact that you simply click on the look you wish to apply from a tree-structured list, and you can see its effect immediately in a preview window, making experimentation easy. The sophistication is in the level of detail you find in these looks, allowing for endless variety of presentation down to the finest point. Looks are applied or modified through a plug-in menu in Word and special toolbar buttons. SPSS provides several generic families of looks, but you can easily add to them or create your own.
To some, the sheer scale of choices may appear bewildering, but the steps involved are relatively simple and straightfoward and SPSS deserves credit for this. The whole presentation of the software shows a commitment to design quality, right down to the seductively attractive red casebound wallets in which the new products are distributed: they will be collectors items in time.
The extreme modularity of the software may not appeal to everyone, as you essentially use two different tools when creating a questionnaire. If you want to change layout and also correct mistakes in the text, it means doing layout first, then transferring to a different program to make the correction. This would be fine if it were instant, but it was not. Reloading the questionnaire again in mrPaper was ponderous on the two different PCs I tried in our office, to the accompaniment of a lot of twiddling hourglasses twiddling and flickering progress bars. Hopefully this will improve either through software optimisation or faster PCs.

It also makes it difficult to make the questionnaire double up as a topline report, where the answers are fed back onto the printed questionnaire. While several low-budget survey packages offer this feature, it is not something you can do with mr Paper. What the modularity does mean is that users can be assigned different tasks, eg a specialist creates the questions and then a research assistant controls the presentation and appearance. This division of labour is also reflected in the two other tools SPSS MR are releasing: mrTranslate and mrScan.
mrTranslate takes an innovative approach to the translation of questionnaires from one language to another. This is not an artificial intelligence product, so a human translator is still required, but mrTranslate makes this swift and efficient. Rather than having to repeat translations over and over, where the same wording has been used in different places, you only ever have to translate something once. If the questionnaire goes through several generations, only the fresh texts need translating. Back in mrPaper, questionnaires can be produced showing one language or a subset of the languages available, such as bilingual questionnaires for countries like Belgium or Switzerland. While In2quest and Quanquest are still not double-byte enabled, which is needed for Chinese and other scripts, mrPaper is double-byte ready.
The three new tools are modest in their scope, but show that the new products SPSS MR is engineering are of a very high build quality. They also show the enormity of the task facing SPSS. We may need to be patient for all four dimensions.


Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, December 2000, Issue 415.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2000. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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