Survey means ‘to look at in a comprehensive way’. There are numerous survey research methods, including in-person and telephone interviews, mailed and online questionnaires.
Getting information in person may be the most personal approach and most effective way of gaining trust and cooperation from the respondent. It is easier to react to puzzled facial expressions, answer questions, probe for clarification or redirect responses. Face to face contact is particularly useful to detect respondent discomfort when discussing sensitive issues or attempts to respond in a socially desirable way.
The in-person interview is usually more costly than any other data collection method. Interviewers must be trained and flown to geographic areas or found and trained within the area of study. It may be unrealistic to send interviewers into areas of high density housing or high crime which may result in an important demographic left out of the study.
Telephone interviews are less expensive than in-person interviews and may be more or less expensive than mailings, depending on the numbers involved. Access to some people is easier by telephone, however, even in this technical age, not everyone has one.
Fewer interviewers are needed to conduct telephone than in-person interviews; if interviewers call from the same location, they can clarify questions with each other, assuring greater standardization and reliability.
Rapport and trust are difficult to establish by telephone. Respondents retain varying degrees of anonymity by phone, depending on how phone numbers are obtained. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish telemarketing calls from the bona fide survey researcher. That, along with increasing identity theft, has made the general public more skeptical about sharing information with anyone for any reason over the phone.
More people may be reached this way than any other, although up to date mailing lists are difficult to come by.
Mailed questionnaires give people time to think about their responses and to use resources at home or at work when responding. There is, of course, no chance to ask probing questions or clarify information.
Through sleet, rain or snow, the mail can be delayed or lost entirely. If a mailed questionnaire does arrive, it may be discarded with the junk mail; mailed questionnaires are less personal than any other survey method.
The use of online questionnaires has exploded, given the plethora of technological advances. Online questionnaires may well be the least expensive way to reach the greatest number of people – globally. Although not everyone has a computer, computers are available at public libraries and community agencies.
Online questionnaires may look easy to create, but in fact are just as difficult as mailed questionnaires to do well. Once designed, online questionnaires can be easily stored and used from year to year, revising, as necessary.
Research shows that response rates on private networks are higher with online questionnaires than with mailed questionnaires or interviews – during the first few days. Subsequently, response rates fall to match the same low rate as mailed questionnaires. Because email addresses are unique identifiers, online questionnaires can guarantee neither anonymity nor confidentiality. If one or the other is required, you must develop a strategy.
Response time, of course, is quick! Those in charge can track respondents, non-respondents, and results throughout data collection. Electronic reminders are sent quickly and inexpensively. Respondents may start to respond, stop, save responses and complete at a later time. Preliminary research shows that respondents to online surveys answer questions more honestly than those engaged in other modes.
Our inboxes are crowded; our junk folders are full. It’s easy to overlook the invitation to an online survey, so the questionnaire layout and design are important factors in increasing response rates.
It is also important to make sure that files are secure and password-protected to eliminate multiple submissions and skewed results. Because technical problems can eat up staff time like little else, it’s nice to work with an online survey firm that negotiates those hardware and software problems for you.
There are many data collection methods to consider, but only a few that will truly meet your needs. Talk with an expert at NBRI who can help you decide what’s best. Contact us now at 800-756-6168.
Terrie Nolinske, Ph.D.
National Business Research Institute