Using Surveys to Collect Social Research Data

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  • 0:07 Social Research
  • 1:05 Survey
  • 2:32 Questionnaire
  • 3:46 Interviews
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

There are many techniques to collect information from people. In this lesson, we will explore some of the ways a researcher collects data, as well as looking at some of the risks and benefits.

Social Research

Social research is the study of the interactions and beliefs of people in a society. Social research often focuses on opinions and beliefs of the people who share common space and ideas. Two quick examples of this can be looking at opinions people have of video games and examining personal beliefs about the role of women in the workforce.

Social research uses different ways to collect data. Another way of saying this is social research surveys individuals. More specifically, social research uses surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. This is probably a little confusing, because 'surveys' is being used in two different ways. 'Surveys' can mean a researcher is collecting data from participants, while another way 'survey' is used indicates a specific technique to collect data. Typically, when someone says 'survey,' they mean the more specific kind.


Surveys are defined as brief interviews and discussions with individuals about a specific topic. If you have traveled by bus, train, or in a big city, you may have been accosted by someone who 'just wants to ask you a few questions.' Public places attract researchers or their assistants doing surveys because they are allowed to talk to the people in these areas.

One advantage is that a survey is able to collect a large amount of information relatively quickly because you don't need in-depth background about a person to collect their opinion. A risk of collecting data in this way is most surveys require a brief interview, which means the style and the specific questions asked can vary depending on which research assistant is conducting the interview. The way I might survey someone is different than how you might survey someone, leading to different responses. This may make your final product unusable.

Many social topics can be researched using a survey. With each participant, you start with collecting some background information, then you move into questions, like, 'What do you think of blowing up the moon?' and 'How do you think this will affect your life?' You then thank the person and move onto the next participant.

It is worth noting here that many people will confuse the term survey with questionnaire. Surveys involve talking to people and collecting information through a brief interview; a questionnaire usually does not involve talking to people.


Questionnaires are a series of written questions a participant answers. This most often takes the form of preset answers, like a multiple-choice test; although, sometimes a researcher may use free responses, like an essay question. Questionnaires are usually self-explanatory so that when you hand it to someone, they are able to read and understand what they are supposed to do. This makes a well-designed questionnaire one of the easiest and quickest ways to collect a large amount of data. One risk with questionnaires is that they tend to be very limited in what they can ask because you can't expect someone to sit there for two hours to fill out some questions for you.

Questionnaires are useful when you are examining something that can be explained quickly and when you don't need exceptionally detailed responses. For example, I have conducted research on whether people can determine if evidence is likely to appear in a real court or a fictional television court. A participant was given a list of evidence, and they would mark how likely a piece of evidence was to appear in a real court. The trick being that some of the evidence would almost never be in a real court, so the person who marked one of those items as likely to be in a real court has a fictionalized view of court.


Interviews are questions posed to an individual to obtain information about the individual in a structured, semi-structured, or unstructured format. A researcher would interview people if they needed more in-depth information than could be collected with a survey. Psychological interviews are a lot like job interviews, with a researcher asking a person a bunch of questions in order to understand the interviewee.

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