Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

In Brief

What it does

A pair of related survey tools designed for DIY surveys on paper, with automated data entry using robust OMR scanning, or online surveys, which share a common data format and set of analytical tools at the back end.

Supplier

Gravic

Our ratings

Score 4 out of 5Ease of use

Score 2 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Remark office OMR $895. Remark Office Web $950. One off costs which includes telephone or email support and software updates within current version plus 50%+ discount on new versions.

Pros

  • Simple straightforward survey tool at a bargain price.
  • Does not require special printing for scannin
  • Can tie together data from paper and web
  • Everything runs on your own PC and web server

Cons

  • No character recognition capability in scan module
  • Lacks email invitations and reminders web module
  • Limited reporting options, especially for cross-tabs
  • Fiddly to create really nice-looking web surveys

In Depth

here are almost too many online survey tools to choose from these days – yet the choice narrows down considerably when you seek a single solution for fielding surveys on paper and online. If you need both and are on a tight budget, then Remark Office could give your productivity and independence a welcome boost.

Remark Office actually comprises two different products, which you purchase separately: Remark Office OMR, for automatic data capture of survey forms, and Remark Office Web, for online surveys. Though they work independently, the underlying data format is the same, and a survey set up on paper can be imported into the web module, so that the data can share the same layout, and they can be brought together easily for analysis, using the integrated cross-tab and statistical reporting module.

To use the OMR module you design your questionnaire in Word, with tickboxes and write-in fields to capture the answers. There are a few simple conventions to follow when laying these out, which are explained in tutorials provided by Gravic. Basically, keep things lined up, avoid gratuitous rules and boxes round boxes, and don’t put things too close together.

The software actually recognises three different types of data: tickbox fields for pre-coded questions, image fields, either for open-ended or numeric questions, or barcodes.

Barcodes are useful for customer surveys, so that you can tie the questionnaire into demographics or other data already known, and pull in data from an external file for analysis. This is simply achieved by having a unique identifier for each record, which could be a customer ID or your own made up number. You then use Word’s mailmerge to print this identifier on each separate survey form and send out the appropriate forms to the appropriate people. Gravic even provide you with a special barcode font to use in Word. Simply applying this font to your identifier converts it into a barcode readable by the scanner.

Tickboxes can also take on a variety of shapes beyond just squares. Where there is less flexibility is over write-in fields for text or numbers. Remark is strictly OMR only, and there is no support for handprint number or letter recognition, unlike many other data capture solutions. It makes the task of collecting a price or a postcode into a lengthy manual process. Gravic claim this is due to the ‘unreliability’ of intelligent character recognition as a technology. It is a specious argument: handprint recognition reached a level of viability fifteen years ago, and has only got better since. The case for leaving it out is probably more down to cost, and it may not be something everyone needs. For me, this is a serious omission.

Remark Office OMR is essentially a legacy forms tool, so to get the form ready for data capture you scan in a blank form and then use their software to define the page in terms of the questions, answers and expected values. When you define a new project there is a wizard that steps you through the task in a relatively painless way, and the software has the intelligence to be able to recognise what are likely to be answer fields when you draw a box around the relevant area of the scanned image using your mouse. All in all, you are likely to spend little more than 15–30 minutes setting up each A4 sheet.

The web survey tool has the advantage that it is fairly quick to use, through it does not have the instant ease and web feel that some of the rival online tools have and feels a bit dated. At least survey instruments are page-oriented, not just one long scrolling form. You can add several questions to one page very easily, and incorporate routing too. But the look of the online survey is uninspiring and appears hard to change.

It can be spiced up with some graphics, which are easy enough to add, but the product lacks the concept of CSS-driven independent style templates.

There is support for password-controlled access to surveys, and the ability for respondents to break off and resume a survey at a later time. Oddly, there is no invitation or reminder facility. However, Gravic are currently re-working the web module, so there is hope that some of these lacks will be overcome. It does have the big advantage that surveys can be deployed on your own web server, once again offering a very low-cost alternative to even the cheapest hosted solutions.

Reporting capabilities are reasonably good. As you might expect, this is not a power-reporting tool, but it goes further than many DIY products with the range of statistics that it offers. It will create statistical reports, summary reports and charts for all of your questions automatically, which will get you off to a flying start with your analysis. Cross tabs are different, and you have to create these one by one – and one question by another is the limit for each table. For in-depth analysis and segmentation, you can use the SPSS .SAV file export route to take it into another program.

It’s a program that does what it says it will, does it accurately, reliably and doesn’t cost the earth. Look on its simplicity as a virtue, and you could be in on a real bargain.

Country Report: United States. Remark Office in action at The City College of New York

Ed Silverman is the Director of Institutional Research at City College, part of the City University of New York, and is responsible for compiling data and carrying out research on the college and its courses. This he does single handedly for the most part, with the aid of Remark Office. Ed is passionate about what can be learned from surveys among students, employers and other ‘customers’ of the college.

Ec explains: “An example of one our marketing-type surveys was to find out ‘what do adult learners want to do?’ for our continuing education programme here. With Remark on paper, you can create a form which is simple to fill in, and which will capture what they say. We took it to events like street fairs, handed them out and we asked people to fill them in. We gave them a bunch of options and asked them what else they would like to see. Remark will capture what they wrote. That’s very useful when can you bring all the comments together and sort them in Word, because you start to notice things you had never thought of – and that means other people haven’t either. It’s great if we can offer courses that other people aren’t.”

“With employers, it is hard to get them to fill out a survey. But if we send them a URL and the survey is short, we get good results. But we also find that some of the managers, especially those in the older age groups, are uncomfortable with the web, so we send them a paper survey. By taking this mixed approach, we have had a number of responses from people who have never responded before.

“For me it is a time game. I have a huge amount of work, and the less time I can take, the happier I am. I can put together a survey in Remark in minutes – especially if you use templates. You can simply copy and paste questions from one survey into another, and that way, when someone asks you for something urgent, you can create something literally in minutes.”

Asked to sum up the benefits, Ed reels off a lengthy list: “It is inexpensive. For scanning, it does not require any special paper or printing and it’s really quick and easy to learn. It is reliable – there just aren’t any glitches. It is incredibly easy to upload to the web, and then to download the data when you are done. It makes savings all round.

Besides the surveys, I have a lot of other work to do. It saves an enormous amount of time. I could not survive without this.

Working with this software is really easy. It’s no problem to create a questionnaire and it does not take much time to learn – you can learn what you need to make the questionnaire after one or two hours.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2007, Issue 496

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