What Is Survey Research? - Definition, Methods & Types

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Response Styles of Surveys: Types, Advantages & Disadvantages

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:07 Survey Definition & Types
  • 1:59 Using Surveys
  • 2:55 Questionnaires
  • 4:19 Interviews
  • 5:13 Surveys
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Devin Kowalczyk

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

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

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.


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:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Survey Research

Activity 1:

Go on the internet and take an online questionnaire about a topic that interests you. As you are taking it, jot down notes about potential problems or issues of bias. For example, are the questions worded in a neutral way, or are they worded in such a way as to appear to be seeking a specific answer? Can you detect any bias in the study which would skew the results? Do you feel that the topic was covered in enough depth to gather relevant data? Questionnaires used in psychological research are typically quite well constructed, but many questionnaires on the internet are not. In two to three paragraphs, write a paper about your experience of taking an online questionnaire, and discuss any issues of validity and bias that you observed.

Activity 2:

For this activity you are a researcher seeking to understand a phenomenon. Define a variable of interest to you. For example, are you curious as to how the weather affects people's moods? Have you ever wondered if people who regularly eat at fast food restaurants are systematically different than those who eat more healthfully? Are cat people and dog people different in some objective way? After you define a variable of interest, construct your own questionnaire to gather data about your topic. Generate at least a dozen questions. Make sure that your questions are as comprehensive and unbiased as possible. When it is ready, find some family and friends willing to participate, of whom you could ask your questions. Write down your results for each person and develop a general conclusion about your variable of interest based on the data you collected.

Activity 3:

Honesty can be a big problem on questionnaires. There are issues of social desirability, wherein a person wants to sound better than he or she actually is. There are issues of embarrassment, wherein a person may not feel comfortable revealing private thoughts and beliefs. These are problems that researchers need to address whenever they formulate questionnaires. How do you think these issues can be addressed such that the data gathered will be valid? Write a journal entry on how you would solve the problem of honesty on a questionnaire about a sensitive or embarrassing subject.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account