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9 Types of Survey Methods and How They Work

Kate William

7 min read

Want to know what your customers think of your new products? What do your employees feel about your workplace? Or even who’s likely to win the next election? Perhaps you need to take an important strategic decision, and every informed decision needs data. You can’t gaze into a crystal ball for the answers. But you can choose from different types of survey methods.

Surveys help us to shape the future with first-hand data from the present. But to successfully achieve your survey purpose, you would need to choose an apt survey method. Choosing the right method depends on your objective, timeline, budget, and sample. 

What is a survey method?

There are many ways to deploy surveys. The survey method generally refers to the process used to gather data. It influences the exchange of ideas and information between the researcher and participants. 

There are two broad categories of survey methods: qualitative and quantitative. Let’s look at the different types of survey methods to help you choose the one right for you.

Types of Survey Methods

1. Face-to-Face Surveys

Face-to-face surveys require little effort on the part of the respondents as the interviewer meets them at a prearranged time and location. The interviewer works directly with the respondents while filling the survey and clarifies their doubts. Face-to-face surveys are apt for respondents who are low on literacy. 

In addition, it helps uncover deep insights by asking more open-ended questions. The interviewers can make sure that the respondents pay attention without getting distracted. To ensure that no data goes ignored, the researcher records the interview. 

Cons:

  • Face-to-face surveys can be long and time-consuming.
  • They are pricey due to travel expenses and the costs of hiring and training an interviewer. 
  • Due to logistical limits, the survey is confined to a particular location.
  • The success of the survey relies heavily on the interviewer’s skills. 
  • There is no anonymity. Hence respondents would be hesitant to answer questions of a sensitive nature.
  • Many studies have also pointed out interviewer bias. Interviewers may give verbal or non-verbal cues as to how they should respond. This bias might skew the overall results.
  • Researchers observed that participants often changed their responses or behavior in a third person’s presence. This is the Hawthorne effect – another unavoidable bias in face-to-face surveys.  

Compared to other types of survey methods, face-to-face surveys offer profound insights and accuracy. But it is expensive and time-intensive.

2. Focus Groups

Like the face-to-face survey, this survey method is in-person. The only difference is that there is a group of people (around 6 to 10). The group is selected to represent the survey’s target population. Each person can share their feedback on a topic, while a moderator leads the group. Their role is to control the flow of discussion and reduce bias. This survey method is good for market research because it lets you uncover personal attitudes and perceptions. 

Focus groups are increasingly becoming digital. There are no geographical restrictions – anyone can participate from anywhere. Focus groups perfectly complement a quantitative survey method. A focus group study conducted right before surveying a larger population can reinforce insights.

Cons: 

  • Selecting the apt participants takes time.
  • The participants should be aware of the research objectives and essential facts before the discussion. 
  • It helps if you decide what questions the moderator should ask and prepare a script for the questions. 
  • Certain participants may dominate the discussion. So the opinions expressed may not represent that of the population.
  • This survey method is also a bit cost-intensive. You may have to incentivize participants and moderators, and bear their travel expenses. 

3. Online Survey Method

Online surveys are one of the most popular types of survey methods for good reason. First, they are accessible, economical and easy to share at the click of a button. Second, they are fast – you can get responses within hours, if not minutes. Third, they come with extra features such as templates, images, skip logic, compulsory questions or a minimum character count.  

An online survey software, like SurveySparrow, has real-time reporting and analysis since the responses are stored automatically. What’s more, people will give honest answers to sensitive questions because you can set online surveys to ‘Anonymous’ mode or encrypt the fields with passcodes. Give it a try.

Cons:

  • There are certain sections of the population that can’t access the internet. Online surveys pose a challenge in such cases, but one can use offline surveys in those scenarios.
  • Online surveys don’t have an interviewer to clarify queries compared to face-to-face surveys. Here are 6 common mistakes in survey questions that you should avoid.

4. Panel Sampling

Panel sampling is when you choose people randomly from a target audience to be a part of a panel. This panel is then part of a study that requires them to take recurring surveys over a period. For example, a longitudinal study where researchers can observe changes in customer perception and behavior over a period. 

Organizations ranging from news media and government agencies to market research companies employ panel surveys. They roll out similar surveys to the target audience many times over various weeks and months. Say, a survey at one point in time indicates that the X variable has the most impact on user behavior. But a panel survey, administered after a long duration, will prove otherwise. This change reflects the variable’s effect over time.

Cons:

  • This method may jeopardize data quality if the respondent is a member of two or more similar panels.
  • Respondents may decide to answer surveys based on the incentives they receive. 

5. Phone Survey 

Almost everyone has a phone at home. That’s why phone surveys are incredibly convenient. It also allows anonymity in case of sensitive questions. If the interviewer is skilful, it can also lend a personal touch which helps build a relationship.

In market research, CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) has led to a faster way to handle and process data obtained from phone surveys. Interviews are effortless since the survey displays on the computer screen, and the interviewer can easily record answers with a mouse and keyboard.

Cons:

  • Phone surveys are time-constrained and usually can’t go longer than 15 minutes. 
  • Many people screen their calls to accept only select callers and may not attend calls from an unknown number. 
  • Phone surveys can be mistaken as telemarketing calls and perceived negatively.

6. Mail Surveys

These are questionnaires distributed and delivered via postal service to a sample audience. Respondents then have to complete these surveys and return them via mail. Mail surveys are straightforward and consist of a few open-ended questions.

Mail surveys may seem old-fashioned, but they also offer a sense of authenticity. Ensure that the study does not exceed one page. Also, include a cover letter with your enterprise letterhead and the purpose of this survey. In addition, it should include details like the survey deadline and the incentives on offer. 

Cons:

  • While mail surveys are convenient for the respondent, it also requires their effort. Thus it has a high chance of being ignored, especially if the target respondents are busy professionals. 
  • There is the cost of printing, envelopes and postage.

7. Kiosk Surveys

You might have seen product promotion kiosks at your local mall or self-service kiosks at your favorite restaurant. The latest kiosks also offer consumers the feature of taking surveys. The goal of kiosk surveys is to collect feedback immediately after interaction with the brand.

Kiosks within the establishment ensure that customers can casually take the survey with no pressure. Kiosk surveys are also suitable for areas with spotty wifi because they don’t require a net connection. 

Kiosk surveys can capture feedback immediately, especially when the in-store experience is fresh in the customers’ minds. This real-time feedback provides brands with a clear picture. For example, suppose a brand has five branches set up within the same city. Kiosk surveys offer the fantastic advantage of gaining responses from customers across multiple branches.

Cons:

  • Just about anyone can take these surveys. Even people who aren’t customers may end up taking the survey – especially if incentives are on offer.
  • Since kiosks are often a part of the in-store experience, customers may not notice a survey kiosk or ignore it. 
  • In addition, if the kiosk faces technical issues, this may end up ruining the survey-taking experience.

8. Paper Surveys

Many feel that paper surveys are a thing of the past. But paper surveys help to get responses from difficult-to-reach audiences. Moreover, a paper survey is the best alternative when the respondent cannot access its online version. Paper surveys in conjunction with online surveys can boost response rates.

What’s more, not everyone is tech-savvy enough to be at ease with online surveys. For example, senior citizens may prefer a paper-based survey. So they are printed on a white background and in easy-to-read large fonts. 

Cons:

  • With its printing costs, the paper surveys method is expensive.
  • Paper surveys are not environmentally friendly. 
  • Unlike online surveys, paper surveys lack an extra layer of data security like password authentication. 

9. SMS Surveys

SMS surveys let you gather user feedback through text messages. When you send an SMS, users can either text a shortcode to access the survey or click on the survey link through their phones. This survey method is ideal for collecting feedback on recent events. 

It’s necessary to have permission from the users to send them the surveys. Ensure that the messages are short, and make the responses quantifiable rather than ask for qualitative feedback. In that sense, you can measure the NPS for a particular interaction right after it happens. SMS surveys have a high opening rate of 98% compared to emails at just 22%.

Cons:

  • There’s limited space for elaboration in a text message. This makes SMS surveys unsuitable for studies that need an introduction or context for better answers.  
  • These types of survey methods can be costly depending on the carrier charges. 

How to choose the apt survey method

There are varied types of survey methods in research. You can choose one or a mix of many. Here are some of the factors to keep in mind:

  • Target population: If your target population can be enumerated, then you can easily pick a sample from the list of names you have at hand. Online surveys or phone surveys are not used for populations that are difficult to enumerate or list out. If your target population is illiterate, it is advisable to do a face-to-face survey.
  • Sample size: If your sample is small, it’s easier to carry out face-to-face surveys. On the other hand, you may need to deploy online surveys to guarantee higher response rates for a larger sample.
  • Duration of research: If your study lasts for a longer period, especially if the same sample takes the surveys, a panel survey would be apt. Other types of survey methods are sufficient for collecting data at a single point in time.
  • Facility and infrastructure: Ensure that you have the infrastructure required to carry out your survey. In phone surveys, you would require phone surveying facilities. For conducting focus groups, you would need a comfortable room and equipment to record responses.
  • Costs incurred: Face-to-face surveys are expensive since there is a high cost of training and hiring interviewers. The same goes for mail surveys and associated postage.

Wrapping Up

Surveys are a systematic form of collecting primary, raw data from your target audience. It is one of the most effective ways to conduct research. In this article, we discussed the numerous types of survey methods and how to choose the one most apt for you. Each one has its pros and cons. Ultimately, the survey method you select will depend upon numerous factors such as cost, response rates needed, target audience, and duration of research. Choose wisely!

Kate William

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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