9 Types of Survey Methods and How They Work

Types of Survey Methods

1. Face-to-Face Surveys

  • Face-to-face surveys can be long and time-consuming.
  • They are pricey due to travel expenses and the costs of hiring and training an interviewer.
  • Due to logistical limits, the survey is confined to a particular location.
  • The success of the survey relies heavily on the interviewer’s skills.
  • There is no anonymity. Hence respondents would be hesitant to answer questions of a sensitive nature.
  • Many studies have also pointed out interviewer bias. Interviewers may give verbal or non-verbal cues as to how they should respond. This bias might skew the overall results.
  • Researchers observed that participants often changed their responses or behavior in a third person’s presence. This is the Hawthorne effect — another unavoidable bias in face-to-face surveys.

2. Focus Groups

  • Selecting the apt participants takes time.
  • The participants should be aware of the research objectives and essential facts before the discussion.
  • It helps if you decide what questions the moderator should ask and prepare a script for the questions.
  • Certain participants may dominate the discussion. So the opinions expressed may not represent that of the population.
  • This survey method is also a bit cost-intensive. You may have to incentivize participants and moderators, and bear their travel expenses.

3. Online Survey Method

  • There are certain sections of the population that can’t access the internet. Online surveys pose a challenge in such cases, but one can use offline surveys in those scenarios.
  • Online surveys don’t have an interviewer to clarify queries compared to face-to-face surveys. Here are 6 common mistakes in survey questions that you should avoid.

4. Panel Sampling

  • This method may jeopardize data quality if the respondent is a member of two or more similar panels.
  • Respondents may decide to answer surveys based on the incentives they receive.

5. Phone Survey

  • Phone surveys are time-constrained and usually can’t go longer than 15 minutes.
  • Many people screen their calls to accept only select callers and may not attend calls from an unknown number.
  • Phone surveys can be mistaken as telemarketing calls and perceived negatively.

6. Mail Surveys

  • While mail surveys are convenient for the respondent, it also requires their effort. Thus it has a high chance of being ignored, especially if the target respondents are busy professionals.
  • There is the cost of printing, envelopes and postage.

7. Kiosk Surveys

  • Just about anyone can take these surveys. Even people who aren’t customers may end up taking the survey — especially if incentives are on offer.
  • Since kiosks are often a part of the in-store experience, customers may not notice a survey kiosk or ignore it.
  • In addition, if the kiosk faces technical issues, this may end up ruining the survey-taking experience.

8. Paper Surveys

  • With its printing costs, the paper surveys method is expensive.
  • Paper surveys are not environmentally friendly.
  • Unlike online surveys, paper surveys lack an extra layer of data security like password authentication.

9. SMS Surveys

  • There’s limited space for elaboration in a text message. This makes SMS surveys unsuitable for studies that need an introduction or context for better answers.
  • These types of survey methods can be costly depending on the carrier charges.

How to choose the apt survey method

  • Target population: If your target population can be enumerated, then you can easily pick a sample from the list of names you have at hand. Online surveys or phone surveys are not used for populations that are difficult to enumerate or list out. If your target population is illiterate, it is advisable to do a face-to-face survey.
  • Sample size: If your sample is small, it’s easier to carry out face-to-face surveys. On the other hand, you may need to deploy online surveys to guarantee higher response rates for a larger sample.
  • Duration of research: If your study lasts for a longer period, especially if the same sample takes the surveys, a panel survey would be apt. Other types of survey methods are sufficient for collecting data at a single point in time.
  • Facility and infrastructure: Ensure that you have the infrastructure required to carry out your survey. In phone surveys, you would require phone surveying facilities. For conducting focus groups, you would need a comfortable room and equipment to record responses.
  • Costs incurred: Face-to-face surveys are expensive since there is a high cost of training and hiring interviewers. The same goes for mail surveys and associated postage.

Wrapping Up



SurveySparrow lets you turn surveys into conversations.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store