Telling the computer what to do with the data

Once the computer has the data, it needs to know what to do with it, i.e. what calculations to perform, what tabulations to produce and what statistical manipulations to carry out. This is determined by the research executive, often in conjunction with the individual who commissioned the research survey, particularly if the survey is complex or unusual. This is called 'specification writing' because it specifies what the computer must do. The specifications are a set of written instructions to the computer in whatever computer language is appropriate for the machine being used. A typical set of specifications might instruct the computer to do straight counts and percentages on the answers to all questions and to produce tables of the answer to each question analysed by the demographic characteristics of age, gender, class and region, or cross-tabulations of these. In addition to this, specifications may instruct the computer to carry out significance tests on any figures that are considered important. 'Spec. writing' is an important part of the researcher's art and one with which the research user should become involved. Either at the briefing stage, or after the fieldwork has been done, the research user should make it plain exactly what analyses are to be carried out on the data.

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