Survey Methods


Survey research is a method of investigation that allows a researcher to gather information from a large population. It is one of the most commonly used methods for social research.

Surveys can be a paper-and-pencil or electronic questionnaire and also verbal interview. These may be mailed out, administered in person, conducted over the phone or online, or in person interview-style surveying. Depending on the population being researched different methods of administration will be appropriate in each situation.

Question style in a survey can be multiple choice, numerically open-ended (ex. how often do you X?) or they can be open-ended for text response.

To have an effective survey, there are several steps the researcher must take before, during, and after the survey administration (Trochim, 2000):

  • Identify goals – What do you want to capture?
  • Decide on the target population and sample size – Who will you ask?
  • Determine the questions- What will you ask?
  • Pre-test the survey – Test the questions
  • Conduct the survey – Ask the questions
  • Analyze the data collected – Produce the report


surveymonkey_logo_380 SurveyMonkey is a free, online survey software program that allows the researcher to create and administer their questionnaire using a variety of question styles and formats. SurveyMonkey also provides survey analysis tools to utilize after you have completed the survey administration.

If you so wish, you can also access the SurveyMonkey Audience to locate a target audience and send out your survey “around the world.”

For the novice surveyor, or anyone who needs assistance, there is a 24/7 support line and also in-depth tutorials and tips.

nostyle-logo-2 Another online survey software program, Snap is user-friendly and allows for the creation of both online and paper surveys. And, if you decide to use paper surveys, you can then scan them in to be analyzed, saving a great amount of time from data entry.

Unfortunately, Snap isn’t free. However, they offer pricing for software and services that is scaled to the researcher’s needs.

How to Learn Survey Methods

0471012734Book: How to Conduct Your Own Survey by Priscilla Salant and Don A. Dillman

This is a quick how-to guide that give you the nuts and bolts of survey research!


Associations and Journals

4.coverJournal of Survey Statistics and Methodology  sponsored by American Association for Public Opinion Research and the American Statistical Association. “Topics of interest include survey sample design, statistical inference, nonresponse, measurement error, the effects of modes of data collection, paradata and responsive survey design, combining data from multiple sources, record linkage, disclosure limitation, and other issues in survey statistics and methodology. The journal will publish both theoretical and applied papers, provided the theory is motivated by an important applied problem and the applied papers report on research that contributes generalizable knowledge to the field. Review papers are also welcomed. Papers on a broad range of surveys are encouraged, including (but not limited to) surveys concerning business, economics, marketing research, social science, environment, epidemiology, biostatistics and official statistics.” (Oxford Journals, 2014)


Food Access and Pantry Services Survey by the California Center for Rural Policy, a sponsored program of Humboldt State University. This report (with the survey in the appendix) reports the methodology and analysis conducted on survey. This survey is a good representation of different question styles and format. In a critical view, this survey is a bit long, and we must always keep in mind that a survey-taker can get burnt-out quickly. Think about how you might have altered this survey to improve it even more.

More Information/Resources

The Research Methods Knowledge Base, an online textbook covers most topics of typical introductory social research courses – and its free to access (now that’s public sociology!). This web site has an indepth description and critical examination of survey methods that identifies methods of implementation and analysis as well as an examination into the many issues that arise in survey research.

Colorado State University’s Survey Research Guide – accessible to non-CSU students – provides descriptions of written, oral, and electronic surveys. They also describe how to design, conduct, analyze, and report your survey research.

What is a Survey by Fritz Scheuren

Written by: Hanna Menefee
Last updated: 4 October 2014

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