When you wish to find out trends or features of larger groups, you can do a ‘survey’, also known as a ‘questionnaire’.

A survey can be used to:

  • collect opinions about something. For example, you might want to evaluate if social workers are happy with a newly implemented software to document their visits with clients
  • conduct needs assessments in a target population. For example, to help develop a programme for relatives caring for a family member, a needs assessment can help you find out about the support needs they have
  • make predictions about people’s behaviour. For example, you can get an idea of how people without employment are likely to vote in an election
  • find out common characteristics within a population of interest. For example, you can explore personality traits and skills in children admitted to a new school.

An example survey of common characteristics is found below:

Screenshot of an online survey with the following content: Optional We invite all individuals to voluntarily report their gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, and primary language. We collect this information to help ensure the assessment is in compliance with non-discrimination laws and do not have an adverse impact on any particular race/ethnicity or gender. This information will remain confidential and will not be used for any purposes other than those stated above. What is your gender? What is your age? What is your educational achievement? What is your primary ethnicity? What is your primary language? Click Next after optionally completing this page.

Surveys usually contain a standardised set of questions which are asked to all survey participants. There are three main types of answer formats:

  • Multiple choice questions: Participants are required to select one answer out of several proposed ones. It can look like this:
Example multiple choice questions: Have you had the following coffee drinks in the past week? Brewed coffee: yes, no. Café au lait: yes, no. Americano: yes, no. Cuppuccino: yes, no.
  • Tick box questions: Participants can select more than one answer. To do this, they are usually required to tick checkboxes. These questions can look like this:
Example tick box question: 4. Which of the following animals live with you? Please check all that apply: Bird Cat Dog Fish Mouse. hamster or other rodent Snake, iguana, or other reptile Other animal None
  • Free response questions: Participants are given a text box in which they write whatever they would like to in response to the question.

Surveys can be conducted online, on paper, on the phone, or face-to-face. A few things should be considered when constructing a survey:

  • define the topics and characteristics you want to investigate in your survey and choose existing validated questionnaires if available
  • think about the order of questions in a survey, so that they logically build on each other
  • formulate your survey questions to leave as little room for interpretation for the participant as possible. This is because the researcher usually gets no information on the thoughts or reasons behind an answer option chosen by the participant.

(Author: Leonie Ader)

What is it?


Types of survey questions by SurveyMonkey (2022)

This website gives an overview of popular types of survey questions. (Academic reference: SurveyMonkey (2022, retrieved July 29). Types of survey questions [Website]. https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/survey-question-types/)

How is it done?


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Designing a Questionnaire or Survey – statistics help by Dr Nic’s Maths and Stats

This video describes steps to design a questionnaire. That is, defining the research question, planning your sample, writing and checking the questions and piloting the survey. (Academic reference: Dr Nic’s Maths and Stats (2015, February 18). Designing a Questionnaire or Survey – statistics help [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkX-t0Pgzzs&ab_channel=DrNic%27sMathsandStats)

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Designing a Survey by SAGE Video (2018)

This video explains the process of designing a survey and describes how to minimise response bias to make responses as accurate as possible. (Academic reference: Sage Video (2018, October 2). Designing a Survey [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdVWbuffdNY&ab_channel=SAGEVideo)