You may be able to win brownie points with friends and family if your science project involves baking dozens of cookies and asking people to tell you which one tastes best... the ones with regular chips or the ones with mini chips or the ones with white chocolate chips or the ones with carob chips or even the ones with M&Ms. A chocolate buzz can go a long way, but is it science?
Projects that involve surveys and testing (even taste testing) by volunteers can be legitimate science projects, but be careful! The project you choose has to have an underlying scientific principle and needs to be designed in such a way that you are asking (and investigating) a clear scientific question. The scientific backbone of the project may be a psychological, sociological, or other scientific principle, but there has to be a science component on which the project--and the survey--hinges.
Projects that simply compare products (which type of chocolate chip tastes better tastes, for example) are not appropriate for a science fair. While those kinds of tests and comparisons are valuable in product marketing and product development, they don't necessarily fill the requirements of a science project. As you consider projects, you want to be sure that your background research leads you to a test-able hypothesis. If there isn't any real research you can do, then you are not asking a scientific question.
Luckily, there are an infinite number of science-based questions that can be asked. With careful planning, survey-based projects can be fun and successful. With a bit of research and planning, you can even develop a whole project around cookie taste-testing! Stumped as to how? Check out our How Do You Make the 'Best' Cookie? project.
Unlike other experiment-based projects, with a survey, it is really important that you "get it right" the first time. You can't easily go back and "try again" or repeat your survey. Your experiment needs to be well-planned and really well thought out from the beginning.
Before you are ready to talk with your volunteers, spend time figuring out what kind of data you need to gather to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Taking time to make samples of the kinds of graphs or data tables that you hope to produce will help you understand what information you need to collect. After making these samples, make a list of the kinds of data that you need to gather (e.g., height, age, color-preference, weight, etc.). Using the list of relevant data points, you can write questions for your survey that will help you gather the right kinds of data. As you work on your survey and design your project, be sure to consult the following important Science Buddies resources:
- Designing a Survey
- Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need?
- Science Fair Project Question
Projects for the People
The following science projects from the Science Buddies directory of project ideas involve a survey component. If you are considering your own topic, looking at the procedures for these project ideas can help you construct your own independent survey-based science project.
- The Bouba-Kiki Effect (Difficulty: 2)
- Teachers Rule (Difficulty: 3-4)
- Do Males and Females Play the Same Types of Games? (Difficulty: 4)
- Can You Make a Happy Song Sad?* (Abbreviated project idea) (Difficulty: 5)
- Hands-on Shopping: More Likely to Buy if You Can Give It a Try? (Difficulty: 5)
- It's Written All Over Your Face: The Science of Facial Expressions (Difficulty: 5)
- The Nose Knows Smell But How About Taste? (Difficulty: 5-8)
- Uh-oh! What Do We Do With Our E-waste? (Difficulty: 6-7)
- Testing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony (Difficulty: 7)
- Gamers: Myth or Man? (Difficulty: 7-8)