What is a Survey?

survey and survey software


The article contains information about the definition of a survey, its different methods and types, survey design, benefits and drawbacks offered by surveys, and survey software. 

  1. Survey Methods
  2. Survey Types
  3. Survey Design
  4. Survey Advantages and Disadvantages
  5. Survey Software


We may perform research for academic or business purposes, and in both cases, we need to gather information using different data collection methods. These methods vary depending on the method availability or objectives of the research. The main research types – quantitative and qualitative research may require specific strategies, and in some instances, some of the methods may be used for both forms of research. Quantitative research deals with numbers, while qualitative research analyzes feelings, opinions, motivations, in short, non-numeric data.

Surveys are among the primary methods of collecting data. Other data collection methods include interviews, observation and focus groups. As in other data collection methods, surveys are designed to find answers to certain questions. It involves gathering data from a sample of people in order to generalize the findings for a broader audience. A survey is similar to a questionnaire, but the survey is a broader term. The questionnaire is a set of questions asked for specific purposes. Survey also contains questions, but the difference is that survey involves analyzing the data to find trends, which is not the case with the questionnaire.

Survey lets the companies measure customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and offer new products or services to market, among other things. As a thumb rule, the more survey participants, the higher chance for generalization of results. Although the number of survey participants plays an important role in getting an accurate picture of the situation, the organizers should make sure that they survey the right people. In order to have the desired results, surveys should be created and analyzed carefully by considering different factors

Survey Methods

There are various methods of collecting data using surveys. They depend on the subject matter, availability, resources. Here is a look at different survey methods:

Telephone Surveys

Telephone surveys used to be a more popular choice for researchers to gather information when humanity didn’t reach today’s technical advancements. However, people still use telephone surveys. Some use the traditional way – they call the customers, ask questions and write the answers down on a paper or computer. Some use new technologies to survey people via telephone. CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to survey respondents. In CATI, a pre-recorded voice asks questions and presents the customers with choices corresponding with numbers on the telephone keypad. For open-ended questions, it just records the answers. It is worth mentioning that automatic transcription software such as Voicedocs that functions with speech-to-text technology can be beneficial in converting the recorded audio surveys to text.

One of the biggest advantages of a telephone survey is that it lets the researcher get a quick response, unlike, for example, email survey, which can take days to get a response. The telephone survey is also a cheaper and less time-consuming form of a survey, especially if IVR is involved.

Mail (post) surveys

Mail survey is another form of traditional survey. Mail surveys were also used more widely until the digital age. Some companies still use mail surveys. Mail survey feels more personalized because companies use the name, surname, address, etc., of the recipient to deliver it.

Kiosk surveys

Kiosk surveys can be seen in different establishments and even on the streets. It is a computer screen that asks questions about the service of that particular establishment. It can also ask the customers to rate the service or product they just used. It is a fast way of gathering data. Some companies provide customers with a paper with questions on it and ask them to fill those questions. This is a paper and pencil approach to a survey.

Online surveys

An online survey is the most widespread form of a survey in today’s world. It is no surprise that an online survey is the most used survey method because almost anyone with internet access can create, send and provide feedback on surveys. It doesn’t have geographical restrictions; therefore, it can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Online surveys can be sent via email or can be posted on social media or personal websites.

In-person surveys

This form of survey is generally conducted in the office in attendance of both surveyor and respondent. One of the benefits of an in-person survey is that the surveyor can help the participant with questions that are difficult to understand.



Survey Types

There are different types of surveys based on their purposes. Let’s look at some of them below:

Customer satisfaction survey

As one of the most used types of survey, the customer satisfaction survey helps get feedback on existing products and services. It can be in the form of an email survey, kiosk survey, or other forms of survey, depending on the product and service. Collecting data using a customer satisfaction survey enables companies to evaluate their product regarding the quality, price, experience, etc. Successfully analyzed data can help in increasing sales by fixing issues customers face while using products and services.

Market research survey

A market research survey is usually conducted to find customer needs in the market. It is especially used by companies that want to enter a new market or want to grow their market by attracting new customers. A market research survey allows them to find answers to questions regarding supply and demand in the market. By analyzing customer needs, companies can introduce new products to the market. Additionally, a market research survey also helps to get information on how your competitors operate in the market, what they offer to customers, why customers are happy with their products.

Employee satisfaction survey

Companies use an employee satisfaction survey to measure their employees’ satisfaction levels. This kind of survey provides the company with insights into how employees feel about certain aspects of their job. For example, they can comment on the amount of salary, workload, working hours, etc. Then the feedback is used to assess company-employee policies. Thus, employee satisfaction surveys can help increase the overall productivity level of the company if the company is willing to take measures according to the survey results.



Survey Design

Proper survey design is a key factor in a successfully conducted survey. The survey should be created and formatted professionally so the participants can feel motivated to provide feedback. A half-baked survey design won’t contribute much to the cause.

What are the main factors in survey design?

  1. Setting objectives

Every research project begins with defining the goal, no matter what data collection method is used. Before setting out to create a survey, consider your purpose and what you want to achieve. Without having a clear goal, the survey might go in the wrong direction, and therefore, the results can be unsatisfactory. A survey can offer deeper insights into the issue if the creator knows the exact goal the survey needs to achieve. This step plays a fundamental role in overall research design.

  1. Target audience

After setting a goal, it is time to identify the people who will be part of the survey. These people should be part of the population the research tries to study. It can be your customers, employees, patients, etc. For instance, you can survey people who don’t use your product in order to find out the reasons behind their decision. You can also survey existing customers to enhance product quality or if you want to present a new product. In all cases, targeting the right audience is one of the main contributing factors in survey design.

  1. Survey questions

Survey questions are how you communicate with your target audience, so they should be carefully thought and written. There are two types of questions in the survey:

Close-ended question types

These are questions with predefined answers. Close-ended questions can be multiple-choice questions, simple “yes or no” questions, or can ask to rank and rate specific items. 

Open-ended question types

The open-ended question type doesn’t provide preset answers to the questions. Instead, it lets the respondents write anything they want to share regarding a particular product, service, etc. Qualitative research primarily uses open-ended questions.

Survey questions should follow specific criteria:

  • Make the questions as simple as possible. Using too many complex questions can keep the respondent from answering the question. If it is possible to use a simple term for terminology, it is recommended to use it. The respondent may not be familiar with that terminology.
  • Avoid using biased and double-barrelled questions. A double-barreled question is a question that is about more than one issue but asks for only one answer.
  • All the questions should cover the issue survey tries to find answers for. Out-of-context questions won’t contribute much to research.
  • Questions should not ask for private information. However, if the questions require feedback on sensitive topics, respondents should be informed beforehand.
  • The survey should not drag for too long. It is possible to get required answers even with few questions if the questions are to the point.
  • Every piece of information leading to questions should engage the respondents. You can use images, unique layouts, etc., to make the survey more accessible to the reader.
  1. Data collection

After the target audience is determined and questions set, the survey can go to the next phase. In the data collection stage, one of the survey methods is usually used mentioned in the article. The amount of data needed depends on the subject matter. This is usually the most challenging part of the survey as a whole, and all the previous steps of survey design play a significant role in data collection.  

  1. Data Analysis

After collecting enough data, the next part of the process is data analysis. In this part, the researcher tries to find trends in the feedback. Analyzing close-ended questions is a straightforward task, whereas open-ended questions may require some time. Researchers usually code data acquired with open-ended questions in order to analyze them more easily. There are also survey software programs that help in analyzing the data and can also be beneficial for other steps of survey design. We will talk about survey software later in this article.

  1. Result and Report

In the last stage of survey design, the researcher reports the findings through various channels. The results should be announced if there is a clear picture of the situation. Otherwise, there might be a need to repeat the survey with the same questions or slightly altered versions of them.



Survey Advantages and Disadvantages

As with other data collection methods, the survey also has its pros and cons. First, let’s see what benefits the survey offers.

Survey advantages


  • A large number of respondents

There is no geographical restriction when it comes to web-based surveys; therefore, participants from all over the world can share their opinions on your research topic. Now, almost everyone uses a mobile phone, laptop, computer, and other electronic devices, which can be used to access surveys anytime and anywhere.

  • Cost-effective

Printing and distributing traditional survey papers may demand some money and effort, especially if it requires travelling to deliver the surveys, but online surveys, telephone surveys, kiosk surveys can be beneficial on that front.

  • Honest feedback on sensitive topics

Some data collection methods such as interviews and observation may not be effective if the research involves a sensitive subject. Respondents may not feel comfortable opening up about their specific experiences while they are in the same room with others. However, answers are more valid in the surveys conducted online. Some of the participants may feel freer to talk about sensitive topics. It should be noted that people can also provide their feedback anonymously.

  • Useful for qualitative research

Qualitative research is about non-numeric data and mainly uses open-ended questions to collect data. Therefore, surveys with open-ended questions are a great source of information for qualitative research.

  • Quick response rate

Some survey methods allow the creators to get quick feedback. Telephone surveys, kiosk surveys are especially helpful when it comes to immediate response.  Surveyors can also get a fast response rate via other survey methods if survey questions are shorter or contain close-ended questions.


Survey Disadvantages


  • May not bring thorough feedback

The survey consists of predefined questions, and participants answer those questions. Unlike interviews, there is no room for improvement of those questions, especially close-ended questions.  An interviewer can ask additional questions based on the answers respondent provides, which is not the case with surveys.

  • Lack of motivation in response

Even though surveys can be beneficial in getting feedback on sensitive topics, respondents may not generally feel motivated to respond to particular surveys, especially if it is an online survey. On the other hand, telephone surveys (non-IVR) and in-person surveys may bring more feedback considering the human factor.

  • Validity

Respondents can be bored with the questions, especially with long, compound sentences, and can just check random options provided in the survey. They may even not answer certain questions. Questions should be formed as engaging as possible to attract participant attention.

  • Can’t capture emotions, feelings

Some data collection methods (interviews, observation) help record participants’ reactions towards specific questions. The same thing can’t be said about the survey.


Survey Software

Advances in technology let researchers take a different approach to almost all data collecting methods. Now, it is possible to create, send, and analyze surveys using computer-assisted, easy-to-use software that comes with numerous features.

What are the features and benefits offered by survey software?


1.     Fast turnaround time and flexibility

Utilizing survey tools let researchers design and send the surveys in a much shorter period than the traditional paper-based surveys. In addition, it is possible to change any part of the survey with just a click and repurpose it.  Some of these software features pre-built templates that you need to fill with certain information before delivering it to respondents. The software may even offer recommendations on survey design in order to increase the response rate. In other words, it allows you to personalize your surveys by adding your company logo, motto, etc.

2.     Survey logic

Some of the software is equipped with a feature called survey logic. This feature lets skip questions for people who aren’t right demographics for specific questions. This way, the survey is engaging for the respondents because they don’t have to answer questions that are not their area of interest.

3.     Multilanguage surveys

One of the most valuable features of some survey software is that they allow auto-translation of surveys into different languages. It is especially helpful for large companies that operate internationally. 

4.     Schedule your surveys

Some tools available on the market make the process automated and saves you from sharing the surveys manually all the time. You can schedule your survey, and the software will share it when the time comes.

5.     Easy data analysis

The software may give you a simple summary or a more sophisticated analysis depending on its cost and functions. For example, premium software provides an opportunity to filter, map, and cross-tabulate your data using charts, diagrams, tables, and graphs. This way, you get a better understanding of the data you are dealing with.

Whether you want to get customer feedback on your product or service, measure employee satisfaction, or conduct research for academic purposes, surveys designed, sent, and analyzed using software bring a large number of reliable responses and save your time and money. SurveyMonkey, SurveySparrow, Qualtrics, SurveyGizmo, and other survey software offer various features mentioned in this article. The majority of them provide a free trial, so it is recommended to check the software before deciding if you want to pay for the premium version.