A Survey is a list of questions asked to individuals with the aim of collecting information. The purpose of a survey is to gain an understanding of thoughts, feelings and opinions of a group. If the size of the group is too large, this exercise may be too expensive or time consuming. So, for the sake of feasibility, we select a representative sample of individuals and ask questions to this sample to describe certain characteristics of the group and/or to test hypotheses about the nature of relationships within the group.

Quick details: Surveys

Structure: Structured

Preparation: Questionnaire, Respondent recruitment

Deliverables: Responses, Data charts

More about Surveys and types of Surveys

In business context, survey is one of the primary methods of data collection. It is used to test concepts, gain insight on behavior and attitude of people towards a business, brand, product or service, gauge the level of customer satisfaction, conduct segmentation research and for other purposes.

Surveys are conducted either face-to-face, through email, or sometimes over the telephone. The descriptions of each of these methods are briefly explained in the following table with their purpose, advantages and disadvantages. 

Face-to-faceFace-to-face surveys are conducted to gain an understanding of the emotions and experiences of the respondents. Face-to-face surveys can also be made adaptive i.e. each surveyee can be asked a different question based on their previous response to understand and explore certain issues with a greater depth.
  • The possibility to direct the process of data collection.
  • The possibility of getting unique responses from the respondents.
  • The greater chance of authenticity from the respondents compared to email or telephonic surveys.
  • The possibility to collect the specific type of information required.
  • Great amount of time required arranging and conducting interviews.
  • Additional costs might be incurred associated with the logistics of the survey, etc.
  • Potential for surveyor and surveyee bias
E-mailConducted in order to gather large size of information from a significantly large set of respondents in a short period of time.
  • Respondents can remain anonymous when collecting sensitive data.
  • Considerably cheaper than most of the other primary data collection methods. Possibility of generating large amount of data.
  • Difficulties of ensuring greater depth for the research.
  • The problem of the ‘first choice selection’ i.e. the respondents may not take the survey with complete authenticity and attention.
  • With the large amount of data collected, the process of data analysis is time consuming.
TelephoneTelephone surveys are conducted to gain an understanding of the emotions and experiences of the respondents. These kind of surveys can be a good choice when a face-to-face survey isn’t an option.
  • The possibility to direct the process of data collection.
  • The possibility of getting unique responses from the respondents.
  • A fair amount of time required in scheduling and conducting telephone surveys.
  • The costs could be higher than email surveys.

Advantages of Surveys

1. High Representativeness

With the right group, one that is representative of the larger population, surveys can provide a high level of insight on the behavior, attitude, preference, etc. of the general population. Also, because of the huge number of people who answer surveys i.e. the large size of the sample, the data gathered is a great descriptor of the population.

2. Low Cost

In case of online and telephone surveys, survey participants do not charge a fee. Sometimes, for a scientific study or some other business related survey, the participants are paid a small fee but overall the cost of surveys stays low as compared to other research methods such as focus groups and interviews.

3. Easy Data Gathering

Surveys can be sent to participants via email or fax, or can be administered through the Internet. Nowadays, the online survey method has been the most popular mode of conducting surveys. Apart from being convenient, the surveys can reach a wide and diverse audience quickly and easily.

4. High Objectivity

Any study is considered more meaningful if the researcher can stay objective during the research. Surveys prove to be helpful in such cases. As the researcher’s own biases are eliminated, Surveys are also considered highly reliable.

5. Uniform Scale of Measurement

As questions in the survey are standard and if carefully designed, they are a uniform scale on which every participant’s responses are evaluated.


Disadvantages of Surveys

1. Strict Design

As the survey questions cannot be altered during the course of the study, any gaps in the survey will be prevalent throughout the research.

2. Possibility of Inauthentic Responses

The participants may not always be completely authentic while responding to surveys.

3. Non-empathetic Method

Unlike other methods for data gathering, Survey researchers can stay fairly detached to the participants. Though considered positive for scientific studies, it may be a disadvantage in cases where emotional or sensitive data is being gather from the participants.

Think Design's recommendation

Use surveys as a method if you are seeking reliable, factual (as user said it) data in a reasonably quick time and affordable budget. More so, use surveys when you are going to draw relationships among questions, user types or categories. Also, if you are seeking some amount of quantitative data to have statistical basis for inferences.

Do not use surveys if what you are seeking is a deeper understanding of a situation or a future scenario. There are better methods for these objectives.

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