What Is Survey Research? - Definition, Methods & Types

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  • 0:07 Survey Definition & Types
  • 1:59 Using Surveys
  • 2:55 Questionnaires
  • 4:19 Interviews
  • 5:13 Surveys
  • 5:57 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.

This lesson explores the ways a researcher may employ the types of surveys used in research. We will also go over the strengths and weaknesses of each type of survey.

Survey Definition & Types

If you've ever been sitting at a train station, a particular lecturer's classroom, or in a public area and a person with a stack of papers in his hands comes up to you out of the blue and asks if you have a few minutes to talk, then you have likely been asked to take part in a survey.

There are a lot of ways to conduct research and collect information, but one way that makes it really easy is by doing a survey. A survey is defined as a brief interview or discussion with individuals about a specific topic. The term survey is, unfortunately, a little vague, so we need to define it better. The term survey is often used to mean 'collect information.' For instance, you may imagine a researcher or a television scientist saying, 'We need to do a survey!' (I know, riveting television).

So, besides our definition above, survey also means to collect information. We have our first definition of a brief interview, and we have a second definition of collecting data. There is a third definition for survey. This third definition of survey is a specific type of survey research. Here are the three specific techniques of survey research:

  • Questionnaires - a series of written questions a participant answers. This method gathers responses to questions that are essay or agree/neutral/disagree style.
  • Interviews - questions posed to an individual to obtain information about him or her. This type of survey is like a job interview, with one person asking another a load of questions.
  • Surveys - brief interviews and discussions with individuals about a specific topic. Yes, survey is also a specific type of survey, to make things even more confusing. A survey is a quick interview, with the surveyor asking only a few questions.

Using Surveys

So, why are those people hanging around train stations and other public places? The reason is due to the nature of surveys and the purpose of study. A study is designed to collect information about a topic (for instance, 'How do you feel about Bigfoot voting rights?') and then analyze the collected information to draw a conclusion. The people hanging out in public areas are trying to collect the data. Each survey technique offers strengths and weaknesses, which will be explored in a moment. It is the job of the researcher to weigh those strengths and weaknesses against the needs of their study (people are against Bigfoot voting rights).

All of the surveys offer relatively quick ways of collecting information, and this lesson will show how a researcher might employ surveys in their methodology. Let's say you, as a researcher, are interested in pet ownership and people's views on it.

Questionnaires

If you use questionnaires, you will sit down and write up some questions that you need answers to. This can go in several ways:

  • Open ended questions where the participant fills in the answer with their thoughts. For example, 'What do you think of pet ownership?' This is useful for a descriptive study, but there is very little here that you can analyze statistically.
  • Multiple-choice questions allow for statistical analysis such as, 'Do you think pet ownership is a good thing for people - agree, neutral, or disagree.' However, you may miss some personal feelings or thoughts on the situation.

Using questionnaires allows a researcher to utilize several strengths. For example:

  • It allows for minimal contact between researcher and participant.
  • Multiple avenues, such as handing them out in person, using snail mail, email, and online survey engines, can be used.
  • Participants' answers are readily recorded on the forms.

Questionnaires aren't all sunshine and happy times, though. There are some weak points that need to be addressed. For instance:

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