10 Types of Survey Methods and Their Pros & Cons

Are you a business owner looking to conduct Market Research on your best-selling product? Or a person looking to survey how the people in your city feel about a new bill passed? 

You must understand data collection methods and their types, when and how to use them for data gathering, and how effective they are in different situations.

A survey method is a research process of collecting data by questioning and gathering information from a diverse group of people that are important to research. 

It is a data collection method that focuses on collecting important information from people relevant to research. All survey methods generally involve exchanging information between the researcher and their participants.

Surveys are usually preferred to other data collection processes like observations and experiments because it is cheaper and saves time when appropriately conducted. 

Surveys help you as a researcher to collect direct information from your subject without wasting long periods observing people.

You’re probably wondering why researchers even bother with experiments and observations when they could ask questions and be well on their way. The answer is that although surveys help researchers gain information from vast groups of people, it is inefficient when researching sensitive topics.

Consider a situation where you want to survey a sensitive topic. Participants could give easy answers that are not true as most people do not like answering personal questions. After all, people do not always say what they mean. Observation methods are handy in such cases as you could observe real-life situations of the topic and get accurate information.

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Types of Survey Methods

There are several survey methods for you to choose from based on the purpose of your research. Here’s an in-depth look at types of survey methods with their unique pros and cons and when you should use them for research.

In-Person Interview

In-Person Interview

In-person interviews used to be the most popular type of survey method before types like online survey methods ever existed. In-person interviews help you collect information from your participants face-to-face. It is the most personal type of survey method and helps you recognize your respondent’s unspoken responses and detect when they are giving dishonest answers.

You get to connect personally with your participants, read their body language alongside their spoken answers, and even know what questions make them uncomfortable. 

In-person interviews help you present your questions to your participants in the different ways you’ve accessed them to be open to. The in-person interview method allows you the flexibility to ask random questions that may give you more insights into your research.

For example, you want to survey a town’s residents’ thoughts about a shootout from two days ago. You do this by standing on the street to conduct an in-person interview by asking them your questions and recording every session.

You may be tempted to think this is the most effective survey method until you consider its limitations. In-person interviews can only be carried out one way – in person. This implies that you must attend to every participant in person, regardless of their number. 

Consider a situation where you must survey thousands of persons. It is easy to imagine how overwhelmed you would get interviewing them all in person and how much money and time you’ll spend. 

Therefore, such an expensive and time-consuming method should not be carried out on large numbers of people.


  • Interviews can be recorded and rewatched severally to avoid missing any critical information.
  • You can adjust your questions to suit your participant’s personalities and unique circumstances.
  • Non-verbal responses and nuances can be observed and recorded in interviews.
  • In-person interviews allow you to communicate with your participants with low literacy.


  • It is too expensive and time-consuming.
  • It is almost impossible to have in-person interviews when surveying huge groups of respondents.
  • Respondents might not want to answer sensitive questions with no anonymity.
  • Your survey could get limited to a particular location due to logistical constraints.
  • In-person interviews require you to be a skilled interviewer to get accurate results.
  • Your personal bias as an interviewer may obstruct you from getting accurate answers from your respondents.

Online Survey Method

Online surveys are currently one of the most popular types of survey methods. An online survey method helps collect information from many respondents in a neat, secure, and well-arranged form. 

This method allows participants to respond to surveys conveniently and choose their own pace. Most online surveys are sent out to respondents through links that open forms online. These forms are then filled out by the respondents and submitted back to the researcher.

Consider a situation where your friend sends you the link to an online survey they’re conducting about what people think of climate change. You click on the link, and it opens a form containing true or false questions, which encourages you to answer all the questions as you do not have to think too hard to answer them.

Online surveys are relatively cheap to run as there are several free survey tools to choose from online. Conducting your survey online would help you minimize data collection errors. It also eases your stress of collecting data as you do not have to attend to every respondent individually.

Online surveys also help you to minimize costs as you do not need to spend on printing papers or transporting yourself or your documents. 

All you need to do is upload your questions in your preferred form and send out its link to your respondents, who answer and submit them at their convenience. You can create online survey forms with software solutions like Paperform and SurveyMonkey.


  • It’s a high-speed method of data collection.
  • It is cheap and time-saving as you do not have to spend money on paper printing and logistics.
  • Online surveys are considerably accurate and help you collect data with a low margin of error.
  • It is a valuable method of collecting your data from international respondents.
  • You ease data collection stress when conducting an online survey.
  • Depending on your target respondents, there are many online surveys to choose from.


  • You can only reach people with access to the internet with this type of survey method. 
  • Your respondents can stop answering the questions and never submit the document when they get distracted.
  • It gets so dull answering seemingly pointless questions that most people never even stop to attempt online surveys.
  • Most people do not even attempt them.
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Focus Groups

You can use this survey method by bringing together a small group of similar people to study them through group interaction. The interactive group is chosen based on similarities or traits such as demography, life experiences, gender, etc.

Consider market research where you use a focus group to determine the most effective way to market a product – a fancy hair tie. Your focus group would consist mainly of girls and women as they are the primary consumers of your product. Your focus groups of young girls and women would discuss what is important to them when choosing a hair tie.

You would act as a moderator by asking them questions and discussing themes such as their budget, preferred colors and material, and their expectation of durability. To successfully carry out this type of survey method, you would need to study about 3-4 focus groups with about 6-10 people per group.

Focus groups are usually set up to find the solution to a problem. For example, you could set up a focus group in an establishment to discuss the cause of low productivity. You and your focus group will identify the problem, discuss possible solutions, and implement them.


  • You almost always get immediate results in focus groups
  • It is good in Market Research as it helps you discover the different perceptions of your primary consumers.
  • Focus groups have no geographical restrictions as you can perform them digitally using some of the best meeting software.
  • Using representatives helps you gather information from a diverse group of people.
  • You may discover problems you didn’t know existed.


  • Other group members might influence your participants’ opinions.
  • Some people do not like to voice their opinion in public.
  • It is an expensive survey method.
  • You would need to be a trained surveyor or hire one.
  • It might leave your participants feeling unheard if other group members suppress their views.

Telephone Surveys

Telephone Surveys

Also known as Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI), you conduct phone interviews and query your respondents with this survey technique.

Small companies can use this survey method to determine how well people will receive their new products. It also reveals to you what your respondents think about your existing products. It is also often used to carry out Market Research.

You carry out interviews in CATI by asking your respondents questions from a questionnaire displayed on your screen. The CATI program helps you monitor your calls’ outcome and response rate.

The CATI program also helps you schedule and allocate the telephone numbers of intended respondents and record their answers into the survey database. So, all you need to do is concentrate on asking questions as you will have all the heavy lifting done for you.  

For example, you are a nail technician that wants feedback from your customers as to how expensive they think your services are and how comfortable they feel when you attend to them. In this case, you decide to conduct a telephone survey instead of sending out emails that you might not get a response from. This way, you gather important information by being precise and going straight to the point.


  • It is cost and time effective.
  • You can reach broad geographical areas in a second.
  • Data collection is comparatively faster than other types of survey methods.
  • You get quick responses to telephone surveys than other survey methods like emails.
  • You can add a personal touch, such as a persuasive tone that appeals to your respondents.


  • You have limited time to ask questions in a telephone survey.
  • Unlike in-person interviews, making a personal connection with your respondents is hard.
  • People hang up when you ask intrusive questions or don’t pick up if they are busy.
  • You can only survey telephone users with this method
  • Some people do not accept calls from unknown numbers.

Paper Surveys

With the paper survey method, you get to reach targeted respondents that do not have access to the internet or mobile phones for other types of survey methods. You can employ this survey method when your respondents are physically present to fill out your paper surveys and return them.

You can also use paper surveys in schools to collect data from students. This would help you create a relatively uniform environment and identical questions that are effective with students. It also ensures their anonymity, which is essential to them. 

Although a paper survey is highly effective in data collection when it reaches its target respondents, reaching your target audience is difficult. You would need a lot of time to disseminate and gather data from paper surveys. This is due to the resource-intensive nature of paper surveys and the sometimes lengthy response timeframes.


  • It generates relatively high responses.
  • It is suitable when you want to reach respondents close to you.
  • You can deliver it by hand.
  • You can monitor the survey process and ensure it goes well.


  • It is resource intensive.
  • Some people do not want to stop and answer survey questions during their busy day.
  • Lots of work is required to transcribe the data.
  • Your respondents can not choose to answer the questions at their convenient time.

Kiosk Surveys

Kiosk surveys are run at your business’s site, such as your store, shop, bank, or school. You create this survey using software solutions such as QuickTab Survey and SurveyLegend. Afterward, you place them on embedded devices such as a computer, tablet, or iPad with your survey questions in the corner of your business premises so visitors can fill them out as they pass by.

It is very effective because it helps you collect data from your visitors’ in-store experiences. As soon as a visitor completes the survey, the form restarts automatically and is ready for the next respondent.

Consider a situation where you go to the mall and get attended to by a mall attendant who was rude and unhelpful. As you storm towards the exit with all those emotions, you notice a survey kiosk at the corner. Your answers about the mall’s services would be from your fresh experience without it being watered down by time. 

It would be best to use Kiosk Mode, which keeps your survey in Fullscreen mode, removing the URL and home buttons to avoid visitors navigating away from it.


  • It is cost-effective and generally cheaper than in-person interviews.
  • You do not need an internet connection to collect data from your visitors.
  • It helps you collect data from your visitors while their experience is fresh.
  • A kiosk survey lets you collect and compare data from specific locations.


  • You have to provide additional kiosk locations to increase the response rates.
  • You cannot control the number of people taking the survey.
  • Factors like freezing kiosk applications, a dead battery, and a broken screen can render a kiosk dormant.
  • Non-customers or people that are not your target respondents can take the surveys.

SMS Surveys

SMS Survey

You collect user responses through Small Messaging Services (SMS) when you use this type of survey method. SMS survey allows you to collect feedback from your target respondents on recent events. It is very effective compared to other data collection methods, with a high opening rate of 98%.

This survey method uses SMS software such as Zonka feedback, Delighted, QuestionPro, SurveySparrow, SurveyMonkey, and several others. This software helps you to create and distribute your surveys through text messages, using tools and templates by modifying predefined questions. 

For example, you want to collect feedback from your workers that attended a workshop days ago on how enjoyable it was for them. You send them automated messages through SMS survey software that asks them to rate their workshop experience from 1 to 10. Your workers then open your message and respond to it based on their personal experience giving you your feedback to work with. 

You should make sure your survey messages are short and precise. You should also ask for numbered or quantifiable responses instead of qualifiable ones.

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  • It has a high opening rate.
  • It is effective for collecting feedback from a recent event.
  • It is a quick method of data gathering.
  • SMS surveys are relatively cost-effective.


  • It is not suitable for studies that need long explanations.
  • You can only reach people with cell phones with this type of survey method.
  • You get inaccurate data when your respondents mislead you with false responses.
  • It is sometimes costly.

Panel Sampling 

Panel sampling is a longitudinal type of survey method where you randomly select a group of people to participate in your survey several times over a period of time. It is used to study changes in consumer behavior.

For example, you conduct a panel sampling to collect information on how many people purchase a particular brand of shaving cream. You collect this specific information in 20 stores for five years and observe how the numbers of products bought change over time.

Panel companies help you manage the collection of data from a group of people interested in taking your survey. They also help you choose the most suitable audience for your survey based on their demographic area while tracking their data.

It is important to note that people participating in this type of survey method usually get paid for their time. Depending on the audience’s specificity and the survey length, panel survey costs can vary.


  • It helps you observe changes in essential variables over time.
  • This method helps you observe behavioral changes over a wide demographic area.
  • It is highly efficient as it helps you collect information continuously over time.


  • Respondents may provide inaccurate information based on the incentives they receive.
  • The quality of your collected data might be jeopardized if panel members belong to 2 or more similar panel groups.
  • It is expensive and time-consuming.

Mail Surveys

Mail surveys involve the distribution of questionnaires through postal services. To send a mail survey, you need to have the name and home addresses of your respondents.

For example, you are a surveyor trying to collect data from senior veterans. It would be more effective to send out paper mails to their addresses as this group of people mostly do not have internet access. They would also feel more comfortable writing on paper than other survey methods as they are more traditional, and that is what they are used to.

Ensure that your mails are written to encourage your respondents to answer the questions. It would be best if you asked specific questions to gain your required feedback.


  • You can collect data from international respondents with this method.
  • Using this method gives your respondents the flexibility to answer the questions at their convenience.
  • You do not have to be highly skilled to write these mails.
  • Your respondents are more likely to give honest answers than other survey methods.


  • You can only use this type of survey method with literate respondents.
  • Your respondents may not speak the language in which you write them a mail.
  • This method only generates about a 3-15% response rate.
  • Errors could be made when you send the mails to the wrong address.
  • You have no control over the mails, who answers them, or if at all they are answered.

Pop-up Surveys

With pop-up surveys, you get to collect your data or feedback on-site. It is different from the kiosk survey method because it is carried out online instead of on the business premises. 

You can use this non-obstructive survey method to gather data from the visitors to your website. In pop-up surveys, little effort is required of your respondents. These questions prompt visitors to select their appropriate options, then disappear again.

For example, a visitor on your website suddenly gets a pop-up asking them to rate the site’s responsiveness on their device from 1 to 5. Your respondent clicks on their appropriate answer, the pop-up disappears, and they resume their business on your site.


  • You get high response rates using this method
  • You gather user experience on-site.
  • It allows you to ask difficult questions.
  • It is used to get instant feedback from your consumer.


  • Pop-ups can be intrusive.
  • This method is futile when your site visitors use pop-up blockers.
  • Some people would not answer your pop-up surveys.

In Conclusion

Surveys are a data collection method that carries out data gathering by collecting feedback from your respondents. Due to the large number of respondents and different types of this method, it is relatively more efficient than other data gathering methods.

The type of survey method suitable for your research is determined by several factors such as budget, respondents’ location and literacy, and how comfortable they feel with your methodology.