Survey research is a flexible quantitative approach that can be used to study a wide variety of questions. They are used to describe individual variables (e.g., the percentage of voters who prefer a presidential candidate or the prevalence of schizophrenia in the general population) or also to assess the statistical relationships between variables (e.g., the relationship between income and health).

Traditionally, survey research was conducted in person or by phone. But with progress made by online means such as email or social media, survey research has also expanded. In the same way, costs have been reduced with these tools.

History of research through surveys

Survey research has its roots in social surveys conducted in the early twentieth century by English and American researchers and reformers who wanted to document the extent of social problems such as poverty. The need to draw conclusions about the entire population helped spur advances in sampling procedures. Around the same time, several researchers who had already made a name for themselves in market research by studying consumer preferences for U.S. companies focused their attention on election polls. A decisive event was the 1936 presidential election between Alf Landon and Franklin Roosevelt.

Literary Digest magazine conducted a survey sending ballots to millions of Americans. Based on them, the publishers predicted that Landon would win by a wide margin. At the same time, the new pollsters were using scientific methods with much smaller samples to predict the exact opposite: that Roosevelt would win the election. In fact, one of them, George Gallup, who would later become widely known, guaranteed that Literary Digest’s prediction would be correct.

Evolution of the Surveys

From market research and election polls, poll research made its way into various academic fields. It includes political science, sociology and public health, where it remains one of the main focuses for collecting new data. Beginning in the 1930s, psychologists made important advances in the design of questionnaires, including techniques that are still used today, such as the Likert scale.

In this way, survey research has a strong historical association with the social psychological study of attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices. Early attitude researchers were also among the first psychologists to look for larger and more diverse samples than the convenience samples commonly used in psychology.

Importance of Survey Research

Survey research continues to be important in several fields, especially in psychology. For example, the data obtained through surveys conducted have been instrumental in estimating the prevalence of various mental disorders and identifying statistical relationships between these disorders and other factors.

This type of information can be of great use both to researchers seeking to understand the causes and correlations of mental disorders and to physicians and policymakers who need to understand exactly how common these disorders are.

Types of Surveys

Cross-sectional surveys

Cross-sectional surveys are observational surveys conducted in situations where the researcher intends to collect data from a sample of the target population at any given time. Researchers can evaluate several variables at a particular time. The data collected through this type of survey comes from people who show similarity in all variables except the variables that are considered for research. Throughout the survey, this variable will remain constant.

Cross-sectional surveys are popular among retailers, SMEs and healthcare industries. The information is obtained without modifying any parameters in the variable ecosystem.

Using the cross-sectional survey research method, multiple samples can be analyzed and compared. Multiple variables can be evaluated using this type of survey research.

The only disadvantage of cross-sectional surveys is that the cause-effect relationship of the variables cannot be established, as it usually evaluates the variables at a particular time frame and not through a continuous time frame.

Longitudinal surveys

Longitudinal surveys are also called observational surveys. But, unlike cross-sectional surveys, longitudinal surveys are conducted over various time periods to observe a change in respondents’ behavior and thought processes. This time can be days, months, years or even decades. For example, a researcher who plans to analyze the change in the shopping habits of teens over the age of 15 will conduct longitudinal surveys over several years.

In this way, in cross-sectional surveys, the same variables were evaluated at a given point in time, and in longitudinal surveys, different variables can be analyzed at different time intervals.

Longitudinal surveys are widely used in the field of medicine and applied sciences. In addition to these two fields, they are also used to observe changes in market trend, analysis on customer satisfaction or get feedback on products/services.

In situations where the sequence of events is highly essential, longitudinal surveys are used. When there are research subjects who need to be thoroughly inspected, longitudinal surveys are used.

Methods for the application of surveys

Methods for applying surveys can be derived based on two critical factors: the type of survey and the time involved in conducting the research.

Online or email surveys

It is one of the most popular survey research methods today. The cost involved in online survey research is extremely low and the responses collected are very accurate. The only downside is that response rates are lower compared to the other media.

Telephone surveys

They can be useful for collecting data from a larger section of the target population. However, there are chances that the cost invested will be higher than in other media and also that it will require a greater investment of time.

Face-to-face: In situations where there is a complicated problem to solve, a face-to-face research survey can be conducted. The response rate of this method is the highest, but it can be extremely expensive.

Measurement scales

There are four main scales for measuring variables in surveys:

Nominal scale: On the nominal scale, numbers are associated with variables to name or label. It is the most basic of the four levels of measurement.

Ordinal scale: The ordinal scale establishes the range between the variables of a scale but not the difference value between the variables.

Interval scale: The interval scale is a step forward compared to the other two scales. Along with establishing a range and name of variables, the difference between two variables is also made known using this scale. The only drawback is that there is no fixed starting point of the scale, i.e. the zero value is absent.

Radio Scale: The ratio scale is the most advanced level of measurement scale. It has variables labeled in order and also has a calculated difference between the variables. This scale has a fixed starting point, that is, the true zero value is present.

Reasons to use a survey in your research

Understand respondent behavior: If the survey has been carefully structured, respondents will provide valuable information. To motivate them to respond, we must emphasize how safe the answers will be and how they will be used. This will push them to be 100% honest about their comments and opinions. Online surveys have proven their privacy and because of this, more and more respondents feel safer to express their comments through these means.

They present a medium for debate: a survey can be the perfect platform for respondents to present criticism of a certain aspect. One way to do this is by including open-ended questions where respondents can write down what they think. This will facilitate the correlation of the survey with the end of them.

Strategies for improvement: An organization can establish the attributes of the target audience from the pilot phase of a research survey. The criticism and feedback received from this survey can be used to improve a product or service for example. Once improvements are successfully made, another survey can be sent to measure the change in feedback by keeping the pilot phase as a benchmark.

In our experts will help you determine the most suitable type of survey for your thesis. In the same way, we will advise you on the analysis of the data and the validation of it.


Surveys are a fundamental tool for quantitative research studies. They usually ask questions to a sample, using various types, such as online surveys, paper questionnaires, surveys on web pages, among others.

When conducting survey research, an organization can ask multiple questions, collect data from a sample, and analyze this collected data to produce numerical results. It is the first step towards data collection for any research.

This type of research can be carried out with a specific target audience group and can also be carried out in several groups along with a comparative analysis. A prerequisite for this type of research is that the sample of respondents must have randomly selected members. In this way, a researcher can easily maintain the accuracy of the results obtained, since a wide variety of respondents will be approached by random selection.

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You might also be interested in: Experimental Research

Bibliographic References

Díaz de Rada, V. (2009). Analysis of survey data. Spain: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

Martín Alvira, Francisco (2004). The survey: a methodological overview. Spain: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas.

Vallejos Izquierdo, A. (2011). Social research through surveys. Spain: Editorial universitaria Ramon Areces.



Surveys and their use in Research

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