Teacher Guide to Surveys

Surveys are a popular method of research, particularly with the advent of the Internet and other communication technologies.



A survey is poll used to collect quantitative answers from a sample population. Surveys take two forms: interview and questionnaire. When the researcher asks the poll questions, it is called an "interview". In contrast, when the researcher hands out poll questions and collects written or otherwise recorded responses, it is referred to as a "questionnaire".


Surveys may be of one of three different types:

- Cross-sectional surveys
If a survey is only taken once, or if the survey is administered several times with a different sample group each time, it is called a cross-sectional survey.

- Longitudinal surveys
Longitudinal studies involve administering surveys to a group of participants and then administering the same survey after a specific period of time.

- Time-series surveys
Times-series are similar to longitudinal surveys in that both administer the same survey to the same sample population on different occasions, however a time-series survey can have variant periods of time between survey administrations, whereas longitudinal surveys cannot.


Surveys have several advantages. They are easy to administer, very flexible (they can ask any question), standardized (the exact same question can be asked and a specific set of possible responses can be provided, making statistical testing easier), and less expensive than many other forms of research.


However, surveys have several disadvantages. Most notably, surveys suffer from response rate. At the onset of a survey, a specific population is sampled. If only a portion of that sample respond to the survey, the results may be skewed. In addition, the participant's responses may be affected by variants that do not contribute to the question - for example, someone may respond differently based on mood, word perception (both knowing the definition accurately and any feelings that are elicited by a particular word), honesty (survey respondents may subconsciously try to give answers that please the researcher), etc.


The primary purpose of a survey is to gather data about a population, be it demographic or preference-related. Surveys are used by governments, businesses, marketing firms, schools, nonprofit organizations, and researchers, among others, to find out information about a population.

Examples of surveys include: TV ratings, election polls, market research, the US Census, customer satisfaction, brand awareness, etc.

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