Survey research is a critical component of measurement and applied social research. It is a broad area that encompasses many procedures that involve asking questions to specific respondents.
A survey can be anything from a short feedback form to intensive, in-depth interviews that attempt to gather specific data about situations, events, or circumstances. Although there are several methods of application that researchers can apply using this tool, you can divide surveys into two generic categories: interviews and questionnaires.
Innovations in this area in recent years allow for advanced software solutions to provide more data to researchers because of the availability of online and mobile surveys. That means the people who are in the most challenging places to reach can still provide feedback on critical ideas, services, or solutions.
Several survey research advantages and disadvantages exist, so reviewing each critical point is necessary to determine if there is value in using this approach for your next project.
List of the Advantages of Survey Research
1. It is an inexpensive method of conducting research.
Surveys are one of the most inexpensive methods of gathering quantitative data that is currently available. Some questionnaires can be self-administered, making it a possibility to avoid in-person interviews. That means you have access to a massive level of information from a large demographic in a relatively short time. You can place this option on your website, email it to individuals, or post it on social media profile.
Some of these methods have no financial cost at all, relying on personal efforts to post and collect the information. Robust targeting is necessary to ensure that the highest possible response rate becomes available to create a more accurate result.
2. Surveys are a practical solution for data gathering.
Surveys or a practical way to gather information about something specific. You can target them to a demographic of your choice or manage them in several different ways. It is up to you to determine what questions get asked and in what format. You can use polls, questionnaires, quizzes, open-ended questions, and multiple-choice to collect info in real-time situations so that the feedback is immediately useful.
3. It is a fast way to get the results that you need.
Surveys provide fast and comfortable results because of today’s mobile and online tools. It is not unusual for this method of data collection to generate results in as little as one day, and sometimes it can be even less than that depending on the scale and reach of your questions. You no longer need to wait for another company to deliver the solutions that you need because these questionnaires give you insights immediately. That means you can start making decisions in the shortest amount of time possible.
4. Surveys provide opportunities for scalability.
A well-constructed survey allows you to gather data from an audience of any size. You can distribute your questions to anyone in the world today because of the reach of the Internet. All you need to do is send them a link to the page where you solicit information from them. This process can be done automatically, allowing companies to increase the efficiency of their customer onboarding processes.
Marketers can also use surveys as a way to create lead nurturing campaigns. Scientific research gains a benefit through this process as well because it can generate social insights at a personal level that other methods are unable to achieve.
5. It allows for data to come from multiple sources at once.
When you construct a survey to meet the needs of a demographic, then you have the ability to use multiple data points collected from various geographic locations. There are fewer barriers in place today with this method than ever before because of the online access we have around the world.
Some challenges do exist because of this benefit, namely because of the cultural differences that exist between different countries. If you conduct a global survey, then you will want to review all of the questions to ensure that an offense is not unintentionally given.
6. Surveys give you the opportunity to compare results.
After researchers quantify the information collected from surveys, the data can be used to compare and contrast the results from other research efforts. This benefit makes it possible to use the info to measure change. That means a questionnaire that goes out every month or each year becomes more valuable over time.
When you can gather a significant amount of data, then the picture you are trying to interpret will become much clearer. Surveys provide the capability of generating new strategies or identifying new trends to create more opportunities.
7. It offers a straightforward analysis and visualization of the data.
Most surveys are quantitative by design. This process allows for the advantage of a straightforward analysis process so that the results can be quickly visualized. That means a data scientist doesn’t need to be available to start the work of interpreting the results. You can take advantage of third-party software tools that can turn this info into usable reports, charts, and tables to facilitate the presentation efforts.
8. Survey respondents can stay anonymous with this research approach.
If you choose to use online or email surveys, then there is a fantastic opportunity to allow respondents to remain anonymous. Complete invisibility is also possible with postal questionnaires, allowing researchers to maximize the levels of comfort available to the individuals who offer answers. Even a phone conversation doesn’t require a face-to-face meeting, creating this unique benefit.
When people have confidence in the idea that their responses will not be directly associated with their reputation, then researchers have an opportunity to collect information with greater accuracy.
9. It is a research tool with fewer time constraints.
Surveys have fewer time limits associated with them when compared to other research methods. There is no one on the other end of an email or postal questionnaire that wants an immediate answer. That means a respondent can take additional time to complete each answer in the most comfortable way possible. This benefit is another way to encourage more honesty within the results since having a researcher presence can often lead to socially desirable answers.
10. Surveys can cover every component of any topic.
Another critical advantage that surveys provide is the ability to ask as many questions as you want. There is a benefit in keeping an individual questionnaire short because a respondent may find a lengthy process to be frustrating. The best results typically come when you can create an experience that involves 10 or fewer questions.
Since this is a low-cost solution for gathering data, there is no harm in creating multiple surveys that have an easy mode of delivery. This benefit gives you the option to cover as many sub-topics as possible so that you can build a complete profile of almost any subject matter.
List of the Disadvantages of Survey Research
1. There is always a risk that people will provide dishonest answers.
The risk of receiving a dishonest answer is lower when you use anonymous surveys, but it does not disappear entirely. Some people want to help researchers come to whatever specific conclusion they think the process is pursuing. There is also a level of social desirability bias that creeps into the data based on the interactions that respondents have with questionnaires. You can avoid some of this disadvantage by assuring individuals that their privacy is a top priority and that the process you use prevents personal information leaks, but you can’t stop this problem 100% of the time.
2. You might discover that some questions don’t get answers.
If you decide to use a survey to gather information, then there is a risk that some questions will be left unanswered or ignored. If some questions are not required, then respondents might choose not to answer them. An easy way to get around this disadvantage is to use an online solution that makes answering questions a required component of each step. Then make sure that your survey stays short and to the point to avoid having people abandon the process altogether.
3. There can be differences in how people understand the survey questions.
There can be a lot of information that gets lost in translation when researchers opt to use a survey instead of other research methods. When there is not someone available to explain a questionnaire entirely, then the results can be somewhat subjective. You must give everyone an opportunity to have some understanding of the process so that you can encourage accurate answers.
It is not unusual to have respondents struggle to grasp the meaning of some questions, even though the text might seem clear to the people who created it. Whenever miscommunication is part of the survey process, the results will skew in unintended directions. The only way to avoid this problem is to make the questions as simple as possible.
4. Surveys struggle to convey emotions with the achievable results.
A survey does not do a good job of capturing a person’s emotional response to the questions then counter. The only way to gather this information is to have an in-person interview with every respondent. Facial expressions and other forms of body language can add subtlety to a conversation that isn’t possible when someone is filling out an online questionnaire.
Some researchers get stuck trying to interpret feelings in the data they receive. A sliding-scale response that includes various levels of agreement or disagreement can try to replicate the concept of emotion, but it isn’t quite the same as being in the same room as someone. Assertion and strength will always be better information-gathering tools than multiple-choice questions.
5. Some answers can be challenging to classify.
Surveys produce a lot of data because of their nature. You can tabulate multiple-choice questions, graph agreement or disagreement in specific areas, or create open-ended questions that can be challenging to analyze. Individualized answers can create a lot of useful information, but they can also provide you with data that cannot be quantified. If you incorporate several questions of this nature into a questionnaire, then it will take a long time to analyze what you received.
Only 10% of the questions on the survey should have an open-ended structure. If the questions are confusing or bothersome, then you might find that the information you must manually review is mostly meaningless.
6. You must remove someone with a hidden agenda as soon as possible.
Respondent bias can be a problem in any research type. Participants in your survey could have an interest in your idea, service, or product. Others might find themselves being influenced to participate because of the subject material found in your questionnaire. These issues can lead to inaccurate data gathering because it generates an imbalance of respondents who either see the process as overly positive or negative.
This disadvantage of survey research can be avoided by using effective pre-screening tools that use indirect questions that identify this bias.
7. Surveys don’t provide the same level of personalization.
Any marketing effort will feel impersonal unless you take the time to customize the process. Because the information you want to collect on a questionnaire is generic by nature, it can be challenging to generate any interest in this activity because there is no value promised to the respondent. Some people can be put off by the idea of filling out a generic form, leading them to abandon the process.
This issue is especially difficult when your survey is taken voluntarily online, regardless of an email subscription or recent purchase.
8. Some respondents will choose answers before reading the questions.
Every researcher hopes that respondents will provide conscientious responses to the questions offered in a survey. The problem here is that there is no way to know if the person filling out the questionnaire really understood the content provided to them. You don’t even have a guarantee that the individual read the question thoroughly before offering a response.
There are times when answers are chosen before someone fully reads the question and all of the answers. Some respondents skip through questions or make instant choices without reading the content at all. Because you have no way to know when this issue occurs, there will always be a measure of error in the collected data.
9. Accessibility issues can impact some surveys.
A lack of accessibility is always a threat that researchers face when using surveys. This option might be unsuitable for individuals who have a visual or hearing impairment. Literacy is often necessary to complete this process. These issues should come under consideration during the planning stages of the research project to avoid this potential disadvantage. Then make the effort to choose a platform that has the accessibility options you need already built into it.
10. Survey fatigue can be a real issue that some respondents face.
There are two issues that manifest themselves because of this disadvantage. The first problem occurs before someone even encounters your questionnaire. Because they feel overwhelmed by the growing number of requests for information, a respondent is automatically less inclined to participate in a research project. That results in a lower overall response rate.
Then there is the problem of fatigue that happens while taking a survey. This issue occurs when someone feels like the questionnaire is too long or contains questions that seem irrelevant. You can tell when this problem happens because a low completion rate is the result. Try to make the process as easy as possible to avoid the issues with this disadvantage.
Surveys sometimes have a poor reputation. Researchers have seen response rates decline because this method of data gathering has become unpopular since the 1990s. Part of the reason for this perception is due to the fact that everyone tries to use it online since it is a low-cost way to collect information for decision-making purposes.
That’s why researchers are moving toward a rewards-based system to encourage higher participation and completion rates. The most obvious way to facilitate this behavior is to offer something tangible, such as a gift card or a contest entry. You can generate more responses by creating an anonymous process that encourages direct and honest answers.
These survey research advantages and disadvantages prove that this process isn’t as easy as it might see from the outside. Until you sit down to start writing the questions, you may not entirely know where you want to take this data collection effort. By incorporating the critical points above, you can begin to craft questions in a way that encourages the completion of the activity.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.