While there are many tools available for data collection, surveying is one of the most commonly used. Surveying is essentially a research method used to gather data from a sample of people to generalize results to a larger population and gain insights on various topics. Questionnaires are used in asking people for information in a survey. As compared to other data collection methods, such as direct observation and experimentation, surveys yield a broader range of information. The most common survey types by distribution are online, telephone, face-to-face, and mail survey.


Types of Survey


1. Online Survey

Different Types of Survey


Technology has enabled online surveys to become the most popular and cost-effective type of survey. The questionnaire can be completed with a smartphone, tablet, or computer so long as the respondent has access to the internet. 

a. Advantages: 

  • Reach of the survey has increased to wherever there is internet access.
  • No limit to the type of questions that can be asked.
  • Data collection and data analysis is now structured and easy to manage.
  • Ideal for short, simple surveys.
  • Quick results.

b. Disadvantages:

  • We receive requests to take online surveys frequently, whether you make a purchase from Amazon, pick up lunch at McDonald’s or take a class; everyone wants us to take their online survey. This saturation has contributed to survey fatigue, and people are only doing online surveys if they are unhappy or related to something meaningful to them.
  • Inboxes are inundated nowadays; we are busy looking for the things that need our attention and delete or skip the other ‘stuff.’
  • People are hesitant to click on links that come from people they don’t know, they don’t want their information stolen or their computer hacked. 



2. Telephone Survey


The medium used to contact respondents is the telephone. An interviewer follows a script in asking a specific set of questions to the respondents, and a data entry software is used to record the respondent’s answers. 

a. Advantages:

  • Relatively cheaper and less time consuming than face to face surveys. 
  • Extensive geographic access since most people in the United States have a telephone or cellphone. 
  • Easy access to in-house or online phone directories. Phone numbers can easily be purchased from sample companies. 
  • Time effective since interviewers can just keep calling numbers until they reach their quota.
  • Skilled interviewers can elicit longer or more complete answers. Interviewers can also ask for clarifications of unclear responses.  

b. Disadvantages:

  • Hard to make a connection with people since interviewers can’t see the person’s reaction. 
  • Intrusive, since most of the time, telephone surveys are done without notice. The interviewer might be interrupting the respondent’s plan for the day. The researcher must carefully consider the time and length of the call.
  • Interviewers may be perceived as telemarketers and, consequently, turn-off respondents. 
  • Regulations must be followed to avoid significant fines.



3. Face-to-Face Interview

Different Types of Survey


Face-to-Face surveys are one of the oldest and most widely used survey types. The researcher typically interviews in the home, office, hangout place, etc. of the target respondent. This is by far the most personal approach and best used if you are looking to raise trust and cooperation from respondents. Interviewers must be trained well, including on how to read non-verbal cues to direct the interview better.

a. Advantages  

  • Can capture verbal and non-verbal cues. The interviewer can gauge if body language and facial expressions match the participant’s answer.
  • The interviewer can make sure that the participant is committed and encouraged to finish the survey.
  • The interviewer can provide assistance in case the participant is confused about any part of the survey or question.
  • The interviewer can take advantage of the five senses. Aside from audio and visual stimuli, the researcher can also let respondents touch, taste, and smell materials to support the interview.

b. Disadvantages

  • A face-to-face survey can take longer. Interviews can last for days or weeks, depending on the number of respondents needed and their availability.
  • Considerably more expensive than paper, online, and telephone. Training, travel, and material are some of the principal costs. 
  • The quality of data depends on the skill of interviewers. 
  • It requires more effort to plan and manage.



4. Mail Survey 

Different Types of Survey


For reasons of cost and ease of implementation, mail surveys are more frequently used for social research than are either telephone or face-to-face interviews, according to Don Dillman.  Before online surveys, 69% of surveys were conducted solely by mail and another 11% were a combination of mail and some other mode. 

a. Advantages

  • It can be used when the respondent’s internet access or knowledge is limited.
  • Less expensive than Face-to-Face or Telephone surveys.
  • Allows respondents to complete the survey at their convenience. 
  • A hard copy serves as a reminder to finish the survey.
  • Research shows that respondents give more honest answers when compared to other modes.
  • Respondents trust mail surveys more than online surveys since we are told not to click on links from people/organizations that we don’t know. 
  • You have less competition with someone’s mailbox than you do with their inbox.
  • Best for capturing sensitive information or long, complex surveys.

b. Disadvantages

  • Respondents may not follow directions or only answer certain questions, leaving an incomplete response.
  • It takes more time than online surveys to collect the data.
  • If your study requires alternate question sets or alternating question order, paper surveys may be too costly to support this requirement.

Check out our earlier post on Why Mail Surveys are Thriving in the Digital Age.


How to Select the Best Survey Type for Your Research


1. Consider Population and Sampling

Define the characteristics of the target respondents that belong to your population before you choose a survey method. Determine geographics, language, communication, literacy, and other issues that might arise. For example, if your target respondents are older people, you may choose a mail survey; however, if the target population is younger or more tech-savvy, an online survey might be more appealing.  

2. Determine Question Types 

In selecting the right survey method, the questions that the respondents need to answer should be considered. Paper or mail surveys can be ideal for mostly closed-ended questions, while a survey with plenty of open-ended questions that could require a follow-up may require a face-to-face or telephone interview.  

3. Check your budget

You have to justify the cost of the type of survey you will choose. You may want to do a face-to-face interview, but the costs compared to a mail survey may not validate the benefit of pursuing face-to-face interviews. 

4. Establish your timeline

Some survey methods take longer to complete than others. If you are in a rush, then an online survey is your best bet. However, if time is not a significant factor, then you can do a mail survey.

5. Check Access to Facilities and Resources

Do you have the facilities, equipment, and human resources needed for your survey to run smoothly? If you plan to do a mail survey, you need access to printers, human resources or equipment for stuffing envelopes, data processing software, warehousing, and so on. For telephone surveys, you need well-trained interviewers, phone equipment, CATI software, etc.  

It’s important to know which survey type to use and when to use it. Once you’re familiar with the different survey types, you’ll be able to focus on what you need to make your survey distribution as smooth as it can get, getting you far better results than ever before. For more information on data collection techniques or any aspect of mail survey management, contact us today! We provide outstanding quantitative data collection services and paper scanning services!