Surveys, Interviews, and Case Studies

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  • 0:01 Data Collection
  • 0:49 Surveys
  • 2:31 Interviews
  • 3:52 Case Studies
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Researchers often have to decide how to collect data for their research. Should they ask people questions or observe them directly? This lesson will differentiate between three methods of data collection: surveys, interviews, and case studies.

Data Collection

Lauren is a psychologist, and she's interested in the way that people grow and develop as they age. She's noticed that some people become more altruistic as they age, so that a selfish teenager might turn into a very giving and generous person by age 70. Lauren wants to find out if her observations are true of most people. If they are, then she can develop a theory that people become more altruistic with age.

But in order to figure out if this is true of most people, Lauren has to collect data. That is, she has to observe many, many people to figure out if older people are more generous. How should she do that? Let's look at three similar methods of data collection that Lauren can use: surveys, interviews, and case studies, and the main advantage and drawback of each.


Lauren is ready to collect data for her study of altruism and age. She knows that she needs to have a lot of participants, or people, in her study. That way, her observations can be the most accurate possible. But she's not quite sure how to collect data. One tool that Lauren can use is a survey, or a questionnaire that asks people to write down answers to questions about them and their behaviors. For example, Lauren could ask people to write how often they volunteer, what percentage of their income they donate to charity, and how altruistic they would rate themselves.

Surveys are nice because they allow a researcher to collect information on many people. If Lauren had to follow everyone around and write down every altruistic thing she saw them do, she wouldn't be able to have very many participants. After all, she's just one person! But, if she has them fill out the survey, then it doesn't take up much of her time. She can collect their responses and analyze them to figure out whether older adults are more altruistic than younger ones.

However, there's a big issue with surveys. They can lead to dishonest or inaccurate information about participants. For example, if Lauren gives a bunch of people a survey about how generous they are, they'll want to make themselves sound generous. They might actually say that they volunteer more or give more money than they actually do, which could affect Lauren's results. In addition, surveys often have a low response rate. If Lauren gives her survey to a bunch of people, many of them just won't take the time to respond. So, if she hands out 100 surveys, she might only get ten or 20 back. That's not great!


So, what can Lauren do? One thing that might help with the low response rate is for Lauren to ask people the questions and write down or record what they say, instead of asking them to write down the answers. A verbal conversation between a researcher and participant, whereby the researcher obtains information is called an interview. If Lauren asks people a question and jots down their answers, she is interviewing them.

This method generally has a higher response rate than surveys do. This might be because people feel like it's easier to answer a question verbally than it is to write it down, or it might be because people feel awkward saying 'No' to someone's face. If Lauren just hands a survey to someone, they could just put it in the trash and walk away. But, if she's standing there asking them questions, they are less likely to walk away because they might think it was rude.

However, Lauren cannot collect data on as many people as with surveys because each interview takes up more of her time than handing out and collecting a survey does. In addition, interviews share the problem with surveys of the possibility of inaccurate information. Again, if Lauren asks people how altruistic they are, they'll want her to think that they are good people, so they are more likely to lie or stretch the truth about things like how often they help others or how much they give to charity.

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