Surveys may be of two basic types, the descriptive and the analytic. Descriptive surveys are used to gather information largely on what people do and think. Analytic surveys are used to answer research questions or to test hypotheses.
While the most common method of collecting survey data is the ‘questionnaire’, the means by which you gather the information that goes into the survey responses may vary. If the survey makes use of a questionnaire, the measuring instruments must have demonstrable reliability and validity. Issues include sampling, questioning and mode of questioning.
Examples are self-administered posted questionnaires; web-based forms; telephone question and answer interviews, or face-to-face interviews. There are advantages and disadvantages of each approach, primarily to do with sample size and open versus closed questions – see short guide by Compton. In order to make a judgement, the key areas for consider include the cost, co-ordination, size of the sample, rate of return, nature and quality of the data obtained and the ability to clarify questions or responses. The success of using surveys depends strongly on the design of appropriate body of questions and the skill of the interviewer. It is recommended to pilot the questionnaire with a small number of typical participants prior to large scale use with your target group.