Survey Research and Questionnaires

Survey Research

Survey research is a commonly used method of collecting information about a population of interest. There are many different types of surveys, several ways to administer them, and many methods of sampling. There are two key features of survey research:

Questionnaire Design

The two most common types of survey questions are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.

Closed-Ended Questions

Open-Ended Questions

Considerations for Designing a Questionnaire

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Glossary terms related to questionnaire design:

Double-Barreled Question

Survey Administration

Surveys can be admininistered in three ways:

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Glossary terms related to survey administration:

Completion Rate
Cooperation Rate
Refusal Rate
Response Categories
Response Rate

Sampling Procedures

One of the primary strengths of sampling is that accurate estimates of a population's characteristics can be obtained by surveying a small proportion of the population. Four sampling techniques are described here:

Simple Random Sampling

Cluster Sampling

For example, in a face-to-face interview, it is difficult and expensive to survey households across the nation. Instead, researchers will randomly select geographic areas (for example, counties), then randomly select households within these areas. This creates a cluster sample, in which respondents are clustered together geographically.

Stratified Sampling

For example, a researcher may want to compare survey responses of African-Americans and Caucasians. To ensure that there are enough Afrian-Americans in the survey, the researcher will first identify the African-Americans in the population and then randomly select a sample of African-Americans.

Nonrandom Sampling

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Glossary terms related to sampling procedures:

Convenience Sampling
Probability Sampling
Purposive Sampling
Quota Sampling
Random Sampling
Random Selection
Sample Size
Sampling Design
Sampling Frame
Snowball Sampling
Stratified Sampling

Measurement Error

Measurement error is the difference between the target population's characteristics and the measurement of these characteristics in a survey. There are two types of measurement error: systematic error and random error.

Systematic Error

Random Error

For example, a researcher may administer a survey about marital happiness. However, some respondents may have had a fight with their spouse the evening prior to the survey, while other respondents' spouses may have cooked the respondent's favorite meal. The survey responses will be affected by the random day on which the respondents were chosen to participate in the study. With random error, the positive and negative influences on the survey measure balance out.

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Glossary terms related to measurement error:

Interviewer Error
Nonsampling Error
Nonresponse Error
Nonresponse Rate Bias
Sampling Bias

Ethics of Survey Research

Informed Consent

Respondents should give informed consent before participating in a survey. In order for respondents to give informed consent,

Confidentiality and Anonymity

It is absolutely imperative that researchers keep respondents' identities confidential. To ensure confidentiality, researchers should not link respondents' identifiers to their survey responses when using data. Common identifiers include names, social security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers.


Anonymity is an even stronger safeguard of respondent privacy. If a researcher assures anonymity, it means that the researcher is unable to link respondents' names to their surveys.

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Glossary terms related to ethics:

Informed Consent

Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research


Survey sampling is particularly useful when the population of interest is very large or dispersed across a large geographic area.