What is a Survey

Survey: Definition

A Survey is defined as a research method used for collecting data from a pre-defined group of respondents to gain information and insights on various topics of interest. Surveys have a variety of purposes and can be carried out in many ways depending on the methodology chosen and the objectives to be achieved.

The data is usually obtained through the use of standardized procedures whose purpose is to ensure that each respondent is able to answer the questions at a level playing field to avoid biased opinions that could influence the outcome of the research or study. A survey involves asking people for information through a questionnaire, which can be distributed on paper, although with the arrival of new technologies it is more common to distribute them using digital media such as social networks, email, QR codes or URLs.

Characteristics of a Survey

The need to observe or research facts about a situation leads us to conduct a survey. As we mentioned at the beginning, a survey is a method of gathering information.

So, what do you need to conduct a survey?

First, a sample, also referred to as audience, is needed which should consist of a series of survey respondents data with required demographic characteristics, who can relevantly answer your survey questions and provide the best insights. Better the quality of your survey sample, better will be your response quality and better your insights.

Surveys come in many different forms and have a variety of purposes, but they have common underlying characteristics. The basic characteristics of a survey are:

Sample and Sample Determination

A sample is a selection of respondents from a population in such a manner that the sample represents the total population as closely as possible.

The characteristics of a survey sample, are:

  • Determining sample size: Once you have determined your sample, the total number of individuals in that particular sample is the sample size. Selecting a sample size depends on the end objective of your research study. It should consist of a series of survey respondents data with required demographic characteristics, who can relevantly answer your survey questions and provide the best insights.
  • Types of sampling: There are two essential types of sampling methods, they are probability sampling and non-probability sampling. Although sampling is conducted at the discretion of the researcher, the two methods used in detail, are:
    • Probability sampling: Probability sampling is a sampling method where the respondent is selected based on the theory of probability. The major characteristic of this method is that each individual in a population has an equal chance of being selected.
    • Non-probability sampling: Non-probability sampling is a sampling method where the researcher selects a sample of respondents purely on the basis of their own discretion or gut. There is no predefined selection method.

Survey Questions: Questionnaire for your survey

Effective survey questions are the cornerstone for the success of any survey and subsequently, any research study.

The characteristics of survey questions are as follows:

  • Data collection: Whether it an email survey, SMS survey, web intercept survey or a mobile app survey, the single common denominator that determines how effectively you are able to collect accurate and complete survey responses is your survey questions and their types.
  • Fundamental levels of measurement scales: There are four measurement scales which are fundamental to creating a multiple-choice question in a survey. They are, nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio measurement scales without the fundamentals of which, no multiple choice questions can be created. Hence, it is important to understand these levels of measurement to be able to create a robust survey.
  • Use of different question types: Multiple choice questions are the most common type of survey questions, in which, some of the popular question types are: dichotomous question, semantic differential scale question, rank order questions and rating scale questions. Open ended questions are used to collect in-depth qualitative data.
  • Administering the survey: To conduct a survey, it is important to plan the type of survey to ensure you get the optimum number of responses required for your survey. It could be a mix of interviews and survey questions or a questionnaire. Interviews could be telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews, online interviews and questionnaires can be mall surveys or web surveys. The underlying difference between a survey and a questionnaire is that a questionnaire may or may not be delivered in the form of a survey, but a survey always consists of a questionnaire.

Survey Logic: Survey Skip Logic and Branching

The survey logic is one of the most important characteristic of a survey. The objective of using logic in a survey is to move a respondent to a question on the basis of their current selection to a question. Survey skip logic and branching provides the ability to create “intelligent” surveys, meaning respondents can answer relevant questions based on their answers to screening questions. The characteristics of survey logic, are:

  • Survey design: In the survey design phase, the logic has to be developed in a way that redundant questions to each respondent, don’t show up as part of the survey.
  • Application of survey logic: Survey logic can be applied by using conditional branching or unconditional branching. Other parameters such that form the basis of a survey logic depending on the objective of the survey, are, piping data, question randomization, link quota etc.

Survey Methods

Survey methodology studies the in-depth sampling of individual units from a population and administering data collection techniques on that sample. It includes instruments or processes that ask different question types to a predefined sample, to conduct data-collection and increase the survey response rate.

The two distinctive member types are in a survey methodology are, professionals in the field that focus on empirical survey errors and others that work to design surveys and reduce them. it is therefore both a scientific field and a profession. The primary tasks of a survey methodologist while administering a survey is to identify and create samples, validate test questions, select the mode to administer questions and validate methods for data collection, statistical analysis and data reporting.

Survey Methods based on Design

Surveys can be administered by the time they take to complete, the two types are:

  • Cross-sectional studies: Cross-sectional study is defined as an observational research type that analyzes data of variables collected at one given point of time across a sample population. population or a pre-defined subset. This study type is also known as cross-sectional analysis, transverse study or prevalence study. The data gathered in a cross-sectional study is from people who are similar in all variables except the one variable which is under study. This variable remains constant throughout the cross-sectional study. This is unlike longitudinal study, where variables in the study can change over the course of research.
  • Longitudinal studies: Longitudinal study is an observational study that employs continuous or repeated measures to follow particular individuals over prolonged period of time often years or decades. Longitudinal study collects data that is either qualitative or quantitative in nature. In longitudinal study a survey creator is not interfering with survey respondents. Survey respondents are observed over a period of time ranging from months to even decades to observe any changes in them or their attitude. For example, a researcher wants to find out which disease affects young boys (in the age group of 10-15) then the researcher will observe the individuals over that period to collect meaningful data.
  • Correlational studies: Correlational study is a non-experimental type of research design where two distinct variables are studied and a statistical analysis is run to study relation between them without the interference of external “variables”. This study aims to understand the change and level of change in one of the two variables in study, if the other variable changes. It is close to impossible to understand in this research method though, that, the cause of change in either variable. For example, if an ice-cream truck has a jingle that can be loudly heard, people start understanding which ice-cream truck is in the neighborhood and how far it is from the location of the person in question.

Survey Methods based on Distribution

There are different ways of survey distribution. Some of the most commonly used methods are:

  • Email: Sending out an email is the easiest way of conducting a survey. The respondents are targeted and there is higher chance of response due to the the respondents already knowing about your brand. You can use the QuestionPro email management feature to send out and collect survey responses.
  • Buy respondents: Buying a sample helps achieve a lot of the response criteria because the people who are being asked to respond have signed up to do so and the qualifying criteria for the research study is met.
  • Embed survey in website: Embedding a survey in a website ensures that the number of responses is very high. This can be done while the person enters the website or is exiting it. A non intrusive method of collecting feedback is important to achieve a higher number of responses. The responses received are also honest due to the high brand recall value and the responses are quick to collect and analyze due to them being in a digital format.
  • Post to social network: Posting on social networks is another effective way of collecting responses. The survey can be posted as a link and people that follow the brand can take a survey. This method is used when there is no upper cap on the number of survey responses required and is the easiest and fastest way of eliciting responses.
  • QR code: QuestionPro QR codes store the URL for the survey. You can print/publish this code in magazines, on signs, business cards, or on just about any object/medium. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR Code to open the survey in the phone’s browser.
  • QuestionPro App: The QuestionPro App allows to quickly circulate surveys and the responses can be collected both online and offline.
  • API: You can use the API integration of the QuestionPro platform for potential respondents to take your survey.
  • SMS: Using SMS surveys are another quick way to collect feedback. This method can be used in the case of quick responses and when the survey is simple, straightforward and not too long. This method is used to increase the open and response rate of collecting feedback.

Surveys can be distributed using one, some or a mix of the above methods depending on the basis of the research objective and the resources being used for any particular survey. Many factors play a part in the mode of distribution of surveys like cost, research study type, flexibility of questions, time to collect responses, statistical analysis to be run on data and willingness of the respondent to take part in the survey.

You can conduct a telephone or email survey and then make a selection of respondents for a face-to-face interview. Survey data are sometimes also obtained through questionnaires filled out by respondents in groups, for example, a school class or a group of shoppers in a shopping center.

You can also classify the surveys by their content, being able to use open or closed questions to know, for example, opinions, attitudes, details of a fact, habits, experiences for a later classification and analysis of the obtained results.

In the same way you can use some sample survey question ; ask for the classification of different alternatives. You can do a very short survey, with some questions that can take five minutes or less to answer, or it can be a very long survey that requires one hour or more of the time of the interviewee. For example, Those who need to know in depth behavior or attitudes of people, prefer to use, in addition to surveys a panel or an online community.

Survey Data Collection

The methods used to collect survey data have evolved with time. Researchers have increasingly moved away from paper surveys to using smart, online surveys. Each survey data collection method has it’s pros and cons and the researcher has to in most cases, use different methods to collect the requisite data from a sample.

The survey response rates of each of these methods varies as multiple factors like time, interest, incentive etc. play a role in the data collection process.

In the section above, we have looked at survey data collection methods on the basis of design, cross-sectional surveys and longitudinal surveys. In this method, we will look at the four main survey data collection methods on the basis of their actual implementation. They are:

  • Online surveys: Online surveys have now become the most widely used survey data collection method. This method is now widely being used because the reach of the surveys has increased to wherever there is internet access, which is everywhere. There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked in online surveys and the data collection and data analysis is now structured and easy to manage. The survey response rate of online surveys is very high compared to other survey mediums.
  • Telephone surveys: Telephone surveys are a cheaper method than face-to-face surveys and less-time consuming too. Contacting respondents via the telephonic medium requires less effort and manpower but the survey response rate could be debated as respondents aren’t very trusting to give out information on call. In this survey data collection method, the researcher also has less scope to digress from the survey flow.
  • Face-to-face surveys: Face-to-face surveys are on the most widely used methods of survey data collection. The survey response rate in this survey data collection method is always higher because the respondent trusts the researcher since it is in-person. The survey design in this research method is planned well in advance but there is so scope to digress to collect in-depth data.
  • Paper surveys: The least used survey data collection method that is now being used mostly in field research, are paper surveys. Since they are logistically tough to manage and tough to analyze, researchers and organizations are moving away from using this method. These surveys can be used where laptops, computers and tablets cannot go and hence they use the age old method of data collection; pen and paper.

Survey Data Analysis

When you conduct a survey, you must have access to its analytics. While manual surveys based on pen and paper or excel sheets require additional man-power to be analysed by experienced data analysts, it becomes much simpler when using an online survey platform.

Statistical analysis can be conducted on this survey data to make sense of all the data that has been collected. There are multiple methods of survey data analysis, mostly for what is quantitative data. Most of the commonly used types, are:

  • Cross-tabulation: Cross-tabulation is one of the simplest statistical analysis tool that uses a basic tabulation framework to make sense of data. Raw survey data can be daunting but structuring that data into a table helps draw parallels between different research parameters. It involves data that is mutually exclusive to each other.
  • Trend analysis: Trend analysis provides the ability to look at survey-data over a long period of time. This method of statistical analysis of survey data helps plot aggregated response data over time which can be used to draw conclusions about the change in respondent perception over time.
  • MaxDiff analysis: The MaxDiff analysis method is used to understand customer preferences across multiple parameters. For example, a product’s pricing, features, marketing etc. become the basis for maxdiff analysis. In a simplistic form, this method is also called the “best-worst” method. This method is similar to conjoint analysis but is much easier to implement.
  • Conjoint analysis: Conjoint analysis is an advanced statistical research method that aims to understand the choices a person makes in selecting a product or service. This method offers in-depth insights into what is important to a customer and what parameters sway their purchasing decisions.
  • TURF analysis: TURF analysis or Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency Analysis, is a statistical research methodology that assesses the total market reach of a product or service or a mix of both. This method is widely used by organizations to understand at what frequency is their messaging reaching the audience and if that needs tweaking. TURF Analysis is widely used to formulate and measure the success of go-to-market strategies.
  • Gap analysis: Gap analysis uses a side-by-side matrix question type that helps measure the difference between expected performance and actual performance. This statistical method for survey data helps understand the things that have to be done to move performance from actual to planned performance.
  • SWOT analysis: SWOT analysis, another widely used statistical method organizes survey data into data that represents strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organization or product or service that provides a holistic picture about competition. This method helps to create effective business strategies.
  • Text analysis: Text analysis is an advanced statistical method where intelligent tools make sense of and quantify or fashion qualitative and open-ended data into easily understandable data. This method is used when the survey data is unstructured.

Learn More: MaxDiff Analysis vs Conjoint Analysis

What is an Online Survey?

An online survey is set of structured questions, that the respondent completes over the internet, generally through filling out a form. An online survey is an easier way to reach out to the respondents as it is less time consuming than the traditional way of gathering information through one to one interaction and also less expensive.

Online surveys can differ in length and format used. The data is collected and stored in a database which is later evaluated by an expert in the field.

As an incentive for respondents to fill out online surveys, businesses offer them with rewards like gift cards, reward points that they can redeem for goods or services later, free airline miles, discount at gas stations etc.

Online surveys with rewards is a win-win situation for both, businesses and respondents. The businesses or organizations get valuable data from a controlled environment, for the market research and for the respondents it’s a humble gesture from businesses to participate in the survey and spend their valuable time.

What are the Advantages of an Online Survey?

Online surveys are one of the less time-consuming methods to reach out to your target audiences, but that’s not the only advantage of an online survey, let us understand what are the other advantages of using online survey:

  1. Accuracy:In online surveys, usually the margin of error is reduced, as the respondents register their responses by easy selection buttons. Tradition methods require human interference and according to a study, human interference increase the margin of error by 10%.
  2. Easy and quick to analyze: Since all the responses are registered online, it is extremely easy and quick to analyze the data in real time. It is also quick to draw inferences and share the result.
  3. Ease of participation: In this new age technology-oriented universe, most people on this planet have access to the internet. Respondents prefer receiving the survey over the email. Ease of participation greatly increases as the respondents can choose a suitable time and place, according to their convenience to register their responses.
  4. Great branding exercise: While designing the survey online, organizations or businesses have this opportunity to design their survey to align to their brand. Using logos and similar brand language (color and fonts) in the survey, gives an advantage to the businesses as respondents are able to connect better with the brand.
  5. Respondents can be honest and flexible at the same time: According to a study researchers have found an increased participation by respondents when deployed with online surveys rather than answering lengthy questions. By designing surveys that ask relevant questions, respondents are honest with their answers and can skip the questions or respondent to a more neutral option in the survey, increasing their flexibility to respond.

Who Conducts the Surveys?

The person who conducts a survey is usually called an interviewer or a pollster, whether they make a phone call, appear at the door of your house or at the mall to do their work. Those who attend a panel, or online panel, can also be called administrator.

Those who are responsible for performing this task, preferably should be open people, patients, who have the ability to approach strangers to engage in a conversation, and carry out the survey according to the instructions received.

These people are not those who bear the full responsibility of conducting a survey, there are also those who are dedicated to design it, determine the sample, write the questions, supervise the collection and analysis of the data and write the corresponding reports of the results obtained.

On the other hand, if you are conducting an online survey, all you have to do is create, send and automatically analyse the surveys from respondents. A market research analyst is typically the person who creates and send out these online surveys to be answered by respondents.

Survey Examples

It is important for a researcher to be able to conduct surveys using the right questions and the right medium to administer and track responses. QuestionPro is a platform that helps not only to create but also to deploy different types of survey. We have more than 300+ types of survey template and survey examples including:

  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) + Net Promoter Score (NPS) Survey: We hear this time and again that customer is king; and it is true. A satisfied customer is a customer that helps your brand and organization grow, through direct means as well as being an advocate for your brand. This survey template talks about the goodwill your brand has created and how referenceable it is.
  • Company Communications Evaluation Survey Template: This survey example is usually used to analyze employee perspective about what is important to be communicated regularly, topics that should be included in the newsletter, updates on the bulletin board, the efficiency of an organization’s management in communication etc.
  • Hardware Product Evaluation Survey Template: Improving hardware product features isn’t a very easy proposition due to a lot of elements like raw materials, supply chain and manufacturing lines getting affected by it. Hence, while eliciting feedback for hardware, it is important to be as objective as possible. This survey helps understand exactly what product innovation is required.
  • Strategic Planning Survey: Innovation is important to any organization’s product or service lines. Hence, implementing customer support and making product or service tweaks when required are extremely important for the sustenance and growth of an organization. This survey template helps organizations chalk out their business strategy.
  • Business Demographic Survey: This survey template is designed to carry demographic questions and examples that help gain information on occupation, primary area of business, job function and description, organization’s gross income etc.
  • Course Evaluation Survey: This survey template helps educational institutions conduct period feedback on their course and if students find it helpful or not, if it’s stimulating enough and students see this is as value for money along with accentuated learning.

How is a Survey Created and Designed?

As explained before, a survey usually has its beginnings when a person, company or organization faces a need for information and there is no existing data that is sufficient. Take into account the following recommendations:

  • Define objective: The survey would have no meaning if the objective and the end result was not planned before administering the survey. The methodology has to be planned for and broken down into actionable milestones as well as the sample planned for. Appropriate survey distribution methods for these samples also have to be put in place right at the outset.
  • Number of questions: The number of questions used in a market research study are dependent on the end objective of the research. It is important to note, not to ask redundant questions or questions where the answers are already known. The length of the survey has to be dictated only by the core data metrics that have to be collected.
  • Simple language: One factor that can cause a high survey dropout rate is if complex language is used in a survey or if the respondent finds the language uncomfortable to understand. Therefore, it is imperative to use easily understandable text in the survey.
  • Question types: Multiple types of questions can be used in a survey. It is important to use the question types that offer most value to the research whilst being the easiest to understand and answer to a respondent. Using close-ended questions like the Net Promoter Score (NPS) questions or multiple-choice questions help increase the survey response rate.
  • Consistent scales: If you use rating scale questions, make sure that the scales are consistent throughout the survey. Using scales from -5 to +5 in one question and -3 to +3 in another question may confuse a respondent.
  • Survey logic: Survey logic is one of the most important aspects of the survey design. If the logic is flawed, respondents are put off from continuing with the survey. Logic has to be applied and tested to ensure that on selecting an option, only the next logical question shows up.

Apart from the above mentioned points, it is important to remember that when you ask survey questions based on past events and experience, you will have to rely and trust on the memory of the respondents. This is a single “assumed” variable in any survey that seeks to understand user behaviour through past experiences and events.

How to create a survey with QuestionPro?

It is very simple and quick to make a survey the questionpro way. Just follow these steps are you are ready to deploy the survey:

1. Login to your questionpro account (if you don’t already have one, you can get a FREE Account today.)


2. Once you have logged in to your account from the top scroll bar, choose “Survey” from the drop down box in the top left corner.


3. Once you select surveys, you can either start making your survey from scratch or choose from already existing templates.


4. If you decide to make the survey from scratch, the first step is to name your survey.


5. Once you name the survey, you are now ready to add relevant questions.


6. You can choose from a wide range of basic to advance question types from the selection bar on the left-hand side of the page. For example, if you choose “Select one” from the type of questions you will be able to see the question type is displayed on the screen. You can edit the question that you want to ask the respondents. When you edit the options, you can bulk edit the answers accordingly.


7. Once you have added the questions to your survey you are now ready to deploy the survey to the respondents. You can edit the body of the email text and make it more audience specific before you deploy the survey.