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survey research

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Survey research is the collection of data attained by asking individuals questions either in person, on paper, by phone or online. Conducting surveys is one form of primary research, which is the gathering data first-hand from its source. The information collected may also be accessed subsequently by other parties in secondary research.

Survey research is used to gather the opinions, beliefs and feelings of selected groups of individuals, often chosen for demographic sampling. These demographics include age, gender, ethnicity or income levels. The most famous public survey focused on demographics is the United States Census, which occurs every ten years.

Common types of surveys include interviews and questionnaires, which are comprised of multiple choice questionnaires, opinions and polls. Questionnaires are distributed through mail surveys, group administered questionnaires or in-person drop-offs. Interviews can be held in person or over the phone and are often a more personal form of research than questionnaires. There are several issues to consider when creating a survey, including content, wording, response format and question placement and sequence. All of these choices can affect the answers given by participating individuals.

Survey research is used academia, government and business. Governments use research surveys to learn about their populations to help better serve its citizens, while political candidates use survey research to gauge the preferences and opinions of voters. Businesses use surveys to gather information about customer attitudes and experiences to help market consumer products. In academia, surveys are applied in fields like demographics, statistics and social research.

This was last updated in July 2017

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