Types of survey research methods

Find out which type of survey method will help you get the data and responses you need.

When you’re ready to conduct market research, you’ll likely include surveys. Survey methods are processes, tools, or techniques used to ask questions to a defined group of people. Which survey method will you choose? Let’s go through your options.

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There are several types of survey methods. Every method can provide you with both qualitative and quantitative research data. Choose the best method based on your objective, timeline, budget, and sample needs.

An interview is a face-to-face survey. The interviewer asks questions of the respondents and records their responses for later analysis.

  • Apt for those low on literacy - Face-to-face interviews are valuable in cases of literacy or language barriers.
  • Allows for more open-ended questions - Leading to deeper insights as the researcher can ask the respondent to elaborate on answers.
  • Limits distractions - The interviewer can redirect the conversation to the topic at hand if the respondent gets off-track.
  • Catch non-verbal contextual clues - Facial expressions and body language can reveal discomfort or other emotional reactions. Recording these sessions allows you to go back and view these for interpretation.
  • Time-consuming - Both the interviewer and respondent have to be willing to invest the time in the survey. Depending on the number of questions, it can take hours. 
  • More expensive - Travel expenses and hiring and training an interviewer can add to the overall cost of the survey.
  • Logistical limitations - Your survey may be confined to a particular location, which makes it difficult to get responses from people all over the globe.
  • Success relies heavily on the interviewer’s skills - They need to have knowledge of the interview topic and effective interview methods.
  • No anonymity, which may lead to hesitation in answering questions - Sensitive questions may be uncomfortable for respondents to answer in a face-to-face situation.
  • Possibility of interviewer bias - Verbal or nonverbal cues from the interviewer may prompt respondents to reply in a way they think the interviewer wants. This can bias results.
  • The Hawthorne Effect - Respondents modify their behavior because they are being observed, rendering data inaccurate.

Similar to interviews, focus groups are traditionally an in-person survey method. Recently, there has been a rise in digital groups conducted online. Rather than one-on-one, the group consists of a group of about 6-10 people and a moderator. The moderator is in attendance to control the flow of discussion, keep the participants on track, and reduce bias.

  • Increasingly digital - Making it easier to gather a group of people.
  • Complement quantitative survey methods - In focus groups, you can collect qualitative insights that expand on quantitative data.
  • No geographical restrictions - If digital, you can get respondents from across the globe.
  • Discovery of salient points - Through discussion and arguments over a particular product or topic.
  • Flexible - Focus groups can be used to study a wide range of topics, individuals, and settings.
  • Selecting the participants takes time and you need to find an accurate representation of your target group.
  • Participants must be aware of the research objectives and essential facts before the discussion. This may not be ideal for every type of survey research.
  • A script helps, but takes additional time to write—you want your moderator to be well-versed on the topic and able to answer questions raised by the participants.
  • Possibility of certain participants dominating the discussion, leading to an inaccurate representation of the group as a whole. The moderator will need to be prepared to steer the discussion and encourage participation from all group members.
  • Moderator training and fees, travel expenses, and incentives for participants can all be very costly for focus groups.
  • Participants may be easily influenced by the group. You may find that introverted people have difficulty voicing their opinions and find it easier to go along with the group.
  • Participants may not share their true feelings/opinions. Some participants may be hesitant to answer questions in front of a group, especially those with sensitive content.

When you choose a random group of people from your target audience to be part of a panel that takes recurring surveys over a period of time, you are panel sampling.

Panel sampling helps you get more accurate results because you are sampling a selection of respondents from the greater group. When you’re looking for a survey panel, SurveyMonkey Audience can help you get survey responses from even the most niche audience.

Data sampling can be jeopardized if the participant is a member of two or more similar panels. Their answers may differ based on the perceived advantages of receiving incentives from multiple panels.

Incentivized answers may skew the results—if the respondent’s main motivation is receiving the incentive, they may provide answers they perceive as desired by the study sponsor.

Most people have phones, whether landlines or mobile phones, so this can be a very useful method of performing surveys.

  • Convenient - There are no travel or location-related issues and computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CAIT) decreases the need for interviewer training.
  • Can be anonymous - Respondents are more likely to answer even sensitive questions honestly when they can rely on anonymity. 
  • Can be personalized - Interviewers can create rapport and ask for clarification of unclear answers.
  • Time-constrained (<15 mins)—in general, people interrupting their day or evening to take a survey will not want to participate for more than 15 minutes. As a result, questions must be concise and focused.
  • People may not answer phone calls from unknown numbers—it’s common to try to avoid telemarketing sales calls.
  • Can be mistaken for telemarketing and perceived negatively—if not introduced properly, the survey could be misconstrued as a sales call and terminated before data is collected.

SMS surveys allow you to invite participants to enter a survey shortcode, click on a survey link, or answer survey questions directly through a text message. This increases the ease of taking the survey, because it can be completed on a mobile device.

SMS surveys tend to have a high open rate because they reach people on the device they never leave behind—their phones. Surveys sent by SMS, or text messaging can help you reach a wider audience. It’s also incredibly fast because people can respond while they’re on-the-go. 

But, with SMS surveys, you must have users permission to be able to reach them via phone. You may see this as an FCC regulation, added to the bottom of lead forms in fine print. Also, you need to give users the opportunity to opt out of SMS surveys.

With SMS surveys, there is also limited space for elaboration, which makes the method unsuitable for studies that require in-depth explanation or context for answers.

Finally, SMS surveys can be costly depending on carrier charges depending on plans and carriers of both surveyors and respondents, this method can become expensive.

With SurveyMonkey, you can send surveys via SMS, social media, email, and more, and we’ll help you collect responses.

You may feel that paper surveys no longer hold a place in our high-tech world, but they are still of value.

  • Written questionnaires: The survey is printed on a sheet of paper.
  • Mail-in surveys: Respondents receive printed surveys via traditional mail, usually with a postage-paid envelope for its return.
  • Newspaper surveys: Surveys that collect information from readers about current events are sometimes printed in newspapers.

Paper surveys are a good alternative for those without web access. If your target audience falls in a demographic with limited access to computers or is not tech-savvy, then paper surveys might be best.

  • Cost of printing, postage, etc., especially if the survey group is large.
  • Requires respondent effort because respondents must hand-write answers to questions.
  • There’s a high chance of being ignored/forgotten. If the survey is set aside to do later, the respondent may not complete the survey at all.
  • Paper surveys are not environmentally friendly and its more eco-conscious to use electronic methods to survey.
  • There’s a lack of data security because there is no way to ensure that data will be kept confidential.
  • Paper surveys require extra work to collect data because of hand-written responses, extra personnel may be needed to read answers and transfer data. 

Online surveys are the most popular type of survey method, as they make it easy to collect both quantitative and qualitative data.

Online forms

Easily customizable online survey forms are simple to create and make data collection effortless.

Proprietary survey

Proprietary surveys are conducted confidentially for brand use. The data is not available to the public.

Email surveys

Email survey questions and response collection are not used as often today. It is more efficient to use email to send a link to an online survey.

In-app surveys

In-app surveys are integrated into mobile apps, you are able to collect data as your customer is interacting with key elements of the customer journey on your app.

Third-party surveys

Third-party surveys are conducted by companies dedicated to administering surveys. These can be used when collecting data from employees.

  • Accessible—it’s easy to respond to an online survey on any device.
  • Economic—online surveys are the most affordable survey option.
  • Easy to share—a link to the survey can be shared via text, email, and social platforms.
  • Fast—online surveys are fast and easy to set up. Data comes in faster, too!
  • Added features—you can ask a variety of question types, view and collect data in real-time, add logic to simplify feedback, customize your template, and much more. SurveyMonkey is an excellent solution for online surveys.

Certain portions of the population do not have easy access to the internet—look closely at your target demographic to determine if this is an issue. No interviewer available to clarify questions if there is uncertainty—questions must be stated clearly with context and directions where necessary.

Promotional kiosks may be placed in malls or other public places to collect data after an interaction with a brand.

  • No pressure - Customers can choose to approach the kiosk or not.
  • Capture feedback immediately - While the experience with the brand is fresh in the respondent’s mind.
  • Gather feedback from customers across multiple branches - Kiosks can be placed in multiple locations with the same survey questions.

One of the challenges with kiosk surveys is that anyone can take the survey, for example, if they’re walking by the kiosk. Other times, kiosk surveys might not be noticed or may be ignored—if not pointed out by store staff, it may not capture the attention of potential respondents.

There’s also the chance that launching surveys from your kiosk means there will be technical issues. 

Do you have a need for an offline method to conduct a survey? SurveyMonkey Anywhere has a solution!

To choose the best survey method for you, determine the following:

  • Target population
    • For surveys that include a target population you already have access to and can enumerate, online or telephone surveys will work well. If literacy or language obstacles are present, face-to-face interviews are your best option.
  • Sample size
    • Small sample sizes can easily be surveyed with face-to-face interviews. However, your response rate will be higher with online surveys.
  • Duration of research
    • Panel surveys are more suitable for longer periods of research, such as tracking trends from a particular sample of the population over a longer period. One-time surveys can be administered in any other method.
  • Facility and infrastructure
    • Do you have the infrastructure to carry out your survey? For example, a telephone survey will require facilities equipped with several phone lines. Focus groups require a room with comfortable seating and recording equipment.
  • Incurred costs
    • Face-to-face interviews are the most expensive survey method because you must hire and train interviewers. Mail surveys are also expensive when you consider printing and the cost of postage.

There are several types of survey methods available to meet your research needs. Sign up for SurveyMonkey and we’ll help you determine what method is right for you.

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