Guide to Survey Methods: Definition, Types and Advantages

Updated August 8, 2022

Surveys allow researchers to gather insights related to a particular area of interest. Businesses may incorporate surveys into their marketing strategies to gather public opinion about a product or an advertisement campaign. If you're gathering data for research or are interested in learning about consumers' opinions of your product, you can use the survey method. 

In this article, we discuss what the survey method is, list different survey methods to consider, explain how to select one and share the advantages and disadvantages of this method.

What is the survey method?

The survey method is the practice of gathering data for a study by asking people questions related to your research. Typically, researchers survey people who have particular knowledge, insights or experiences related to the study. Researchers create a formal list of questions to ask the participants and may distribute it one-on-one, online or in the mail.

They can then use people's answers to understand public perceptions about or personal experiences with a particular item, service or product. Some companies use surveys when deciding on a new marketing campaign or product feature so they can understand how the public might react before implementing a new advertising strategy.

Related: Survey Templates and How To Use Them Effectively

Types of survey methods

Surveys can have different purposes, so it may be beneficial to review multiple survey methods to select the most appropriate one for your study. Here are several types of survey methods to consider:

Focus groups

Focus groups are one way to conduct an in-person survey. The researcher typically gathers a small group of demographically diverse people. A moderator from the research team leads the focus group through a discussion of a particular topic or an experience with a company's new product. The typical purpose of a focus group is to understand how people react to a particular item or marketing campaign in a group setting.

It's important to the researchers that the focus group participants interact and discuss with one another, rather than answering questions or addressing concerns privately and individually. Researchers often reward people to take part in a focus group by offering gift cards or other compensation.

Related: 57 Questions To Ask a Focus Group (With Tips)

One-on-one interviews

Interviews are another in-person research technique in which researchers ask people questions one-on-one. Face-to-face interviews, or household surveys, can be useful when a researcher or business is interested in discussing something personal with a particular demographic. Some questions may require extensive discussion or questioning, so having one-on-one interviews may be the best option for gathering as much information as possible. An interviewer may film or record the interview, depending on the research team's requirements.

Telephone surveys

Telephone surveys involve calling people and asking them to answer questions over the phone. Many telephone surveys contact people using a technique called random-digit-dialing (RDD). Researchers can use RDD to contact both listed and unlisted numbers, which may help with sample accuracy by minimizing contact bias. Another software program is interactive voice response, or IVR, where customers submit responses using prerecorded answers. By pushing a number on their telephone keypad or providing a verbal response, the interviewee can answer questions. The research team records how many people select particular numbers.

Related: 24 of the Best Survey Software Options for 2022

Mail-in surveys

Research teams send mail-in surveys directly to potential respondents. This can be a cost-effective way to gather data because the only expenses involved are postage. Mail-in surveys can be useful because of their ability to encourage participants to respond, and because researchers send the surveys to participants' home addresses and refer to participants by name, mail-in surveys may seem like a personal approach.

Related: How To Write a Survey That Works for You: Tips for Success

Panel sampling

In panel sampling, researchers select members of a preassembled panel to take part in the survey. This is a great way to guarantee responses since panel members have already agreed to participate in the research. Since you know particular information about the panel members, you can ensure that all survey respondents meet specific criteria and that you're reaching your target audience.

Panel surveys may be longitudinal, meaning that participants answer questions over some time. Sometimes, the interviewers ask the same question several times in a longitudinal study to see if respondents change their opinions throughout the study.

Related: How To Build Better Surveys With a Higher Response Rate

Online surveys

Online surveys are a great way for researchers to contact a wide audience in several geographic settings and of various age ranges. They also allow the researcher to study a particular demographic or target audience. Online surveys are an increasingly popular method because of their flexibility in content and reach. Since many people have access to the internet on their phones, researchers can reach people throughout the day and from any location. This makes contacting respondents easier while allowing them to decide when and where to take your survey.

Related: How To Write a Survey: Steps and Tips

How to select a survey method

Consider following these steps when selecting a survey method:

1. Determine the survey's goal

Researchers and businesses can use surveys to collect a large array of data, so determining the purpose of your research is a good place to begin. If your study has a target audience, you can consider choosing a survey method that allows you to reach these people in particular. If you're looking for as many answers as possible, consider an online or telephone survey that doesn’t require gathering data in person.

Related: How To Send a Survey That Gets Responses (With Steps)

2. Calculate your budget

Survey methods can vary in the resources and time involved, so determining your budget can help you decide which technique to choose. If you have a large budget, focus groups and panel samples can yield in-depth results from a target audience. Otherwise, consider using a more cost-effective option like telephone or mail-in surveys.

Related: How To Create a Budget Worksheet (With Template and Example)

3. Create a list of questions

Creating a list of survey questions can help you determine whether you want to distribute your survey in person, online or by mail. If you're asking open-ended questions that can lead to a discussion, consider putting together a focus group. If you're looking for specific answers, an online survey would allow you to have respondents choose from a provided number of replies.

Related: 51 Ways To Improve Your Skills as a Survey Creator

4. Consult your team

Once you've considered the aim of your survey, the budget you have and a list of questions to include, consider reaching out to other members of your team for feedback. Business associates or fellow researchers may highlight additional variables to consider, like a respondent's location or profession. That can also help you evaluate the survey questions for their relevance to the study.

Advantages of the survey method

Some advantages of the survey method are:

  • They provide a broad range of information. Surveys can yield a great range of data, and researchers can use surveys to gather information related to socioeconomic opinions, advertising and marketing and planning or testing product features.

  • They’re cost-effective and efficient. Surveying people in person, by mail or online are typically faster and less expensive alternatives to a data-collection method like observation. Surveys often require less time and resources to contact participants and gather results.

  • They’re simple to analyze. The process of data analysis can be simple because receiving and reviewing survey questions is usually a straightforward process. This is useful if researchers are facing a deadline or receive many results.

Related: How To Use Survey Design To Generate Meaningful Results

Disadvantages of the survey method

Some disadvantages of the survey method include:

  • Participants' willingness: Since a survey involves people answering questions about a particular topic, it relies on participants' willingness to respond. You can try to overcome this by using careful phrasing of questions that might motivate participants to answer them.

  • Semantic differences: While you may ask every person the same question, there’s no guarantee that they all understand the question the same way. One way to account for this is to have straightforward questions in simple, everyday language.

  • Human biases: Participants' biases may inform or impact the way they respond to particular survey questions. You can include several questions that ask about the same information phrased in different ways to gain a thorough understanding of the respondents' thoughts and feelings.


Explore more articles

  • Employee Performance Evaluation: Definition, Benefits and How To Prepare
  • Learn About 5 Places to Volunteer in Your Community
  • 11 Steps for Writing a 5-Year Business Plan
  • 7 Examples of Leadership Challenges and How To Overcome Them
  • Frequency: What It Is and How To Calculate It
  • COB vs. EOD? What's the Difference and How Do You Use Them?
  • Strategies for Effective Administrative Management
  • 19 Characteristics of Good Communicators (With Tips)
  • 15 Free Online Government Certifications To Boost Your Career
  • 7 Tips for How To Ensure and Improve Customer Satisfaction
  • Can You Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School?
  • How To Open an HTML File (Plus Definition, Uses and FAQs)