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"What is a Survey - Definition, Templates, Methods, Characteristics, and Examples"

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Survey research is the most common and widely used tool for quantitative research. Surveys are used to gather data by asking relevant questions to the respondents who are thought to have the relevant information we are seeking to acquire. Generally, a formal list of questionnaires is prepared which is circulated to the respondents and they can self-report their thoughts. Researchers use a non-disguised approach so that the participants of the survey know exactly what they are answering. In general, respondents are asked questions regarding their demographic details, and the opinion that the researcher is interested in studying. 

Surveys can be conducted through online polls, paper-pencil questionnaires, web-intercept surveys, etc. Surveys are conducted by small and big organizations because they intend to understand what are the opinions of their customers about their products and services. Surveys are important because they give organisations an opportunity to ask multiple survey questions, collect data from a large number of customers and analyse the numerical results generated from collected data. 

In today’s day and age, research is extremely important and thus it is essential for us to understand the benefits of the same. It is crucial to understand how to study the target audience with the help of an accurate survey tool. The data for a survey can be collected with the help of standardized procedures which ensures that every respondent can answer the questions asked in a way that minimises bias. This is done in order to let any outside forces affect the results of the study.

What is an online survey?

Online surveys include a set of structured questions that respondents complete through the internet. This is generally done by filling a form. Online surveys are becoming increasingly popular because it is an apt way to reach out to the participants, it is less time consuming and is also cost effective as compared to traditional paper-and-pencil surveys. The data collected can also be stored in the database and be used for later evaluations by experts.

Sometimes to increase the response rates on surveys, businesses offer incentives to respondents for participating in online surveys. These incentives include gift cards, discount coupons, free airline miles, etc. Research studies that include rewards for participants are a win-win situation for both parties involved as companies get valuable data for their market research, while respondents also stand a chance to receive a reward for their time.

What are the advantages of an online survey?

  1. Online research studies have a low margin of error as it is easy and convenient for respondents to register and fill in their responses. As traditional methods incorporate human interference, there is a chance of 10% of margin error. Thus, online surveys are more accurate.
  2. Since online surveys store the responses online in a database, it is easier to analyse the data in a short period of time. Thus, online surveys are easy and require less time to be analysed.
  3. Since the internet has made the world a global hub, most people will have access to online surveys. Respondents can easily receive the survey form as an email and this ease of participation also increases the response rates on surveys. It also allows respondents with the freedom to choose a time according to their preference and fill the form then.
  4. Online surveys also give an opportunity for organisations to align their questionnaires with their brand design. They have the liberty to use brand logos and brand language which gives them an edge in making a connection with their respondents.
  5. Online surveys provide the confidentiality and space for the respondents to be honest about their preferences. There is an increased participation to fill online surveys as it is more flexible and provides a sense of anonymity to respondents.
  6. There are a plethora of survey templates that are offered by leading online research tools. These templates are ready to use and have made it easier for researchers to select one from the ones available. These templates are detailed and are specifically designed for every industry to make the study more efficient and accurate.

Good survey templates and examples

Researchers need to use the right questions as well as the right medium to administer their online surveys when they are conducting a survey research. Voxco helps researchers to create and administer different kinds of questionnaires, polls, and even quizzes. Some of these survey templates include:

  1. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS® ) Survey: In market research, customers are deemed as the most important part of the organization. It is a known fact that satisfied customers will help your organization grow directly by remaining loyal to your company and also by becoming an advocate for your brand. These two survey templates help you assess your brand’s value and how likely are your customers to recommend your brand to others.
  2. Employee Satisfaction Survey Template: This survey template is used to assess the satisfaction levels of employees working for an organization. This template helps in gaining insight about the culture of the organization and how satisfied your workforce is working in that culture.
  3. Company Communications Evaluation Survey Template: This template is used when a researcher wants to evaluate an employee’s perspective about topics relating to the internal communications in the company, how efficient the organization’s management is in maintaining conversations, etc.
  4. B2B Survey Templates: B2B refers to business to business survey templates. These templates are useful in collecting feedback about the elements that contribute to the growth of your business directly. They include; vendors, clients, the experiences of both, etc.
  5. Business Demographic Survey Template: This survey seeks to find out the demographic details in order for researchers to gain information on occupation, the job functions and description, the organization’s net income, etc.
  6. Strategic Planning Survey: This survey template helps companies understand areas that need improvement or innovations. Researchers also analyze the areas to implement customer support and product making strategy. This template also helps organizations to come up with business strategies including marketing and advertising. 
  7. Course Evaluation Survey Template: This template is used by educational institutes. It helps them analyze the feedback they receive by students on the courses offered and if they are proving to be helpful for the students or not.

How do you create a survey with a good design?

We have highlighted the following recommendations to consider when you are designing a survey:

  • Define the objective of developing a survey. Your survey will have no meaning if it lacks aim. The survey research plan must be organized in the form of achievable milestones. Researchers should also plan out appropriate distribution methods for the samples collected and store them in their respective databases.
  • The objective of the study will also decide the number of questions asked in a survey research. However, a recommended practice is to avoid asking redundant or repetitive questions and only use questions that will add value to the end result of the research. 
  • A survey should include questions that are framed in simple language. If a survey has difficult or complex questions, it may be difficult for respondents to understand and they are more likely to drop out.
  • Survey questions can include close-ended or open-ended questions. An effective practice is to use the questions that will yield the most insightful results. The questions should also be easier for the respondents to understand and answer. Net Promoter Score® (NPS® ) questions usually include the use of close-ended or multiple-choice questions to gather the most information in a short period of time.
  • It is also useful to use a consistent scale throughout the questionnaire if you are using a rating scale. Using scales that range from 0 to 5 in one question and a scale of 0 to 3 in another may be confusing for the respondents. 
  • Your survey should also have logic when you are conducting a study. If the logic or rationale of your survey is flawed, the respondents may be confused and reluctant to answer the questions. A coherent logic of the survey has to be applied as well as tested in order to ensure that only relevant questions show up on the basis of the responses of the respondents.

Characteristics of a survey

1. Sampling

Sample is referred to as the audience that will fill your survey as respondents. Your sample should consist of respondents that have the required demographic characteristics that you are planning to study and those who can answer the survey questions relevantly in order to generate the most insight. The more representative you sample, the better the quality of your results.

The characteristics of a survey sample, are:

  • Sample size: Once you have determined the sample you are going to be studying, the next step is to determine the sample size. The sample size you select will depend on the objective of your research. 
  • Methods of sampling: If you are using sampling methods to collect data for your survey, it is important for you to know that there are two types of sampling methods: Probability and Non-probability sampling.
    • Probability sampling: In this sampling method, participants are chosen at random in such a way that every participant under consideration has an equal chance to be a part of the study. This sampling method allows us to draw strong inferences about our study and increases its generalisability. This is the most recommended method of sampling when doing market or consumer research because we want to make sure our biases will not influence our findings. There four types of probability sampling: simple random sampling, cluster sampling, stratified sampling, and systematic sampling. 
    • Non-probability sampling: In this sampling method, there is non-random selection of respondents in the study. This sampling method is only used when researchers are running on a time-limit, or when there is no way to access certain group members of the general population. The four types of non-probability sampling methods include: convenience sampling, snowball sampling, voluntary response sampling, and purposive sampling.

To know more about the sampling methods mentioned above in detail, click here.

2. Survey Questions: How to design the right questions to ask?

The insight surveys generate are dependent upon the useful questions it asks in the questionnaire. We have highlighted some important characteristics of research questions:

  • Whether you are administering the survey through emails, SMS, mobile apps, or traditionally, the most important determinant of collecting accurate data complete responses depend upon your survey questions and their various types/
  • If you are using multiple choice questions in your survey, you can choose between whether your rating scale will be nominal, ordinal, ratio, or interval. Without knowing what kind of scale you will use, you cannot go ahead with the development of multiple choice questionnaires
  • It is also important for you to use different kinds of questions in your surveys. While multiple choice questions are the most popular, some other question types include: open-ended questions, dichotomous questions, rating scale questions, semantic differential scale questions, as well as rank order questions. Open ended questions are generally used to collect qualitative data.
  • You can administer the survey through interviews or questionnaires of a mix of both. The interviews could be face-to-face, telephonic, or online. The questionnaires can be administered online or traditionally. It is essential for you to plan out how you are going to administer the questionnaire.

3. Survey Logic: What is the logic behind your survey?

Survey logic is one of the most essential characteristics of a survey. The reason researchers use logic is to ask respondent-relevant questions based on their current answers to a question. Survey skip logic allows you to create smart surveys that will expose respondents to newer questions depending on their answers to the screening questions. The characteristics for survey skip logic and branching include:

  • Design: Here, the researchers design their logic behind the questions asked and set it in a way where irrelevant questions to the respondents do not show up in the process.
  • Application: Survey logic can be implemented with the help of conditional or unconditional branching. Other parameters such as objective of the study, question randomisation, and link quota are some other factors that depend on the logic of the questionnaire.

4. Survey Methods

Survey-research analyses the in-depth responses collected by the individuals from the focus population. A survey study includes processes and instruments that focus on asking different kinds of questions to a predetermined set of samples, data collection methods, and ways to increase the response rates on surveys.

Survey Methods based on Design

Research studies are of the following types:

  • Cross-sectional studies:  In cross-sectional surveys, the study takes place at a single point in time. Hence, cross-sectional surveys do not entail the manipulation of the variables under study, and are limited in that way. Cross-sectional surveys allow researchers to study various characteristics, such as the demographic structure of the consumers, their interests, and attitudes, all at once. It aims to provide information about the population at the current moment in time. For example, cross-sectional surveys will tell us how the consumer is responding and feeling about the product at the present moment. It does not study the other variables that may affect the consumers’ reactions to the product in the future.
  • Longitudinal studies: Longitudinal surveys, on the other hand, involves studying variables for a long period of time and observing the changes in them from time to time. Here, the data is collected from the respondents at the beginning of the study, and then the researcher collects data at different time intervals until the end of the study. Longitudinal surveys are more popularly used in medicinal science to understand and evaluate the effects of medicines, or vaccines, in the long-run on participants. Because longitudinal surveys take place for several years, researchers can establish the sequence of events that may affect the variable under study.
  • Correlational studies: A correlation refers to an association or a relationship between two entities. A correlational research studies how one entity impacts the other and what are the changes that are observed when either one of them changes. This research method is carried out to understand naturally occurring relationships between variables. Hence, at least two groups are required to conduct a correlational quantitative research successfully. The variables under this study are not in control of the researcher, the researcher is simply trying to establish whether or not a relationship between two variables exists. Since correlational studies only give us an understanding of whether there is a relationship between two groups, it does not establish causation. Thus, it is not recommended to make conclusions just on the basis of a correlational study; just because two variables are in sync, does not mean they are interrelated, or that one variable is causing the changes in the other variable!

Survey Methods based on the distribution

  • A researcher can distribute surveys in different ways, the most commonly used methods include:

    • Sending an email to the respondents is probably the easiest way of collecting data for a survey. The respondents are of the target audience the researcher wants to focus on and the response rates are also high as the respondents already know about your brand. 
    • Another way to collect large amounts of responses includes buying a sample. This helps you target only the sample you are interested in, and since respondents are being paid to take the survey, it yields quality insight.
    • You can also embed your survey on your website to ensure high response rates. This embedding of the survey can be done when the person logs in or logs out of the website. It is best to use a non-intrusive method of data collection because it ensures high response rates, honest answers, as well as a good reputation of the brand. 
    • Another easy and quick way of receiving responses on a survey is to post them on all your social networks. These will include all the social media handles of the company as the survey will be available to the people who follow the brand.
    • You can also collect data by sending out your survey links through SMS texts. This is a quick and easy method to collect a high number of responses especially when the survey is simple, short, and straightforward.

    You can use one way of distribution of the survey or mix them the above methods depending on the objective of your research as well as the resources in use for the particular research. There are many factors that influence the mode of distribution of surveys including cost, study type, flexibility of the questions and question types, statistical analysis to be done on the data, the time available to collect the responses, as well as the willingness of the participants to be a part of the study.

    You can also conduct telephone or email surveys and on the basis of that select some respondents for face to face interviews. Sometimes survey data is also obtained by asking a group of people to fill out the questionnaires on the basis of their school, or group of shoppers, etc.

    In fact, you can classify surveys on the basis of the content and use open or closed questions to know more about the opinions, attitudes, beliefs, habits, or experiences of particular target groups and analyze their differences. You can create a concise questionnaire that is short and simple, or a more detailed survey that requires an hour or more of time from the respondent.

5. Survey data collection

The methods that are employed to collect data from surveys have increasingly evolved with time. Researchers have adapted to conducting surveys online as opposed to paper-pencil surveys. Sometimes, researchers employ offline and online methods to collect accurate and valid data. The survey response rates vary according to the methods of data collection employed. They also vary with respect to time, interest, and incentives of the respondents. 

There are several sources that researchers can collect survey data from:

  • Online Surveys: Online surveys are most widely used to collect data for surveys. A wide variety of detailed and direct question types are available in online survey templates. Online surveys also offer the value of structured data collection and analysis which is easier for researchers to manage. Response rates of online surveys are significantly higher.
  • Telephonic Surveys: Telephonic surveys are more time-consuming than online surveys, but less time consuming than face-to-face surveys. It requires relatively less human effort. However, there is a mediocre amount of response rates for telephonic surveys as respondents may be skeptical to give out information through phone calls.
  • Face-to-Face Surveys: This type of survey is also widely used for collecting data. Here, the response rate is higher because there is more trust instilled in the respondents as they can see the researcher in person. This method requires researchers to plan out the survey method in advance. The researchers also have the scope to digress from the survey topics and get to know any other relevant information from the respondent. 
  • Paper-Pencil Surveys: This is the least used method to collect data for surveys. Researchers are moving away from this method of data collection as it is difficult to manage, maintain, and analyse.

6. Survey Data Analysis

The last step of a survey research is data analysis. Here, researchers use statistics to turn the numeric data collected into useful and meaningful information that can provide insights into decision making. Statistics is used to summaries data, describe the patterns observed in the collected data, relationships and connections between the several variables under study. Statistics can be descriptive or inferential. Descriptive statistics helps researchers to summaries the collected data whereas inferential statistics is used to identify whether the association or cause-effect relationship obtained between variables is statistically significant or relevant. The other methods of data analysis are:

  • The most straightforward method of statistical analysis is cross-tabulation. This method uses basic frameworks of tabulating data relevantly. Raw survey data can be intimidating to work with, but tabulating it in the form of surveys can help researchers to draw patterns and relationships between different parameters of research. This method involves the use of data that is mutually exclusive in nature.
  • Trend analysis provides researchers with the ability to look at data patterns for a long period of time. This technique helps researchers to plot the average responses collected in the form of data overtime which helps in drawing conclusions on the patterns observed.
  • An analysis that is used to analyze the preferences of customers on different parameters is Maxoff analysis. The product’s pricing practices, features, and marketing strategies form the basis for MaxDiff analysis. It is also known as the “best-worst” method. MaxDiff analysis is similar to conjoint analysis but it is easier to implement in comparison.
  • Conjoint analysis is more advanced than MaxDiff analysis that aims to understand the choices made by customers when they are selecting a product or service in the market. This method offers insights that are detailed into what is important for the customers and what parameters encourage their decisions to purchase products.
  • Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency Analysis (TURF) is used to assess the total market reach of a particular product or a service. This method is employed to help organizations understand the frequency at which their messages are reaching the customers and whether it needs any modification.
  • Gap analysis employs side-by-side matrix question types which help researchers to regulate the differences between the expected performance of the organization and the actual performance. This methodology is used to understand what modification or changes to make in the organization to reach the planned performance goals.
  • SWOT analysis is another popularly used statistical technique to analyze survey data. It transforms the data to represent the strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the organization or product/services. This gives a holistic image about the competition and helps researchers navigate and create effective business strategies.

 In text analysis, researchers analyze the social life of the respondents in the study and aim to decode the actions and the words of the respondents. Hence, text analysis is distinct from other qualitative research methods as it focuses on the social life of the respondents. In the last decade or so, text analysis has become increasingly popular due to the analysis of what consumers share on social media platforms in the form of blogs, images, and other texts.

Create Omnichannel Surveys with Voxco

Voxco is trusted by Top 50 Market Research firms, Global Brands & Universities in 40 countries. Voxco offers full omnichannel capability including CATI, Predictive Dialler, Online surveys, offline CAPI, and Panel Management. Check out Voxco Offerings below: 

Voxco Online

Create engaging omnichannel online surveys with advanced skip patterns, multi-media files, automatic device detection and more. 

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Voxco Analytics

Create one click summaries, visual dashboards, uncover key trends and easily share  the report with teams. 

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Voxco CATI

Maximize CATI ROI with advanced features, hosting options, seamless telephony integration, and flexible pricing. 

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Voxco IVR

Voxco IVR can be used as a standalone, self completion survey option or in combination with other data collection modes.

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