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Data gathering is a flexible and exciting process; especially when you use surveys. There are different survey methods that allow you to collect relevant information from research participants or the people who have access to the required data. 

For instance, you can conduct an interview or simply observe the research participants as they interact in their environment. Typically, your research context, the type of systematic investigation, and many other factors should determine the survey method you adopt. 

In this article, we will discuss different types of survey methods and also show you how to conduct online surveys using Formplus

What is a Survey Method?

A survey method is a process, tool, or technique that you can use to gather information in research by asking questions to a predefined group of people. Typically, it facilitates the exchange of information between the research participants and the person or organization carrying out the research. 

Survey methods can be qualitative or quantitative depending on the type of research and the type of data you want to gather in the end. For instance, you can choose to create and administer an online survey with Formplus that allows you to collect statistical information from respondents. For qualitative research, you can conduct a face-to-face interview or organize a focus group. 

Types of Survey Methods 

Interviews   

An interview is a survey research method where the researcher facilitates some sort of conversation with the research participant to gather useful information about the research subject. This conversation can happen physically as a face-to-face interview or virtually as a telephone interview or via video and audio-conferencing platforms.  

During an interview, the researcher has the opportunity to connect personally with the research subject and establish some sort of relationship. This connection allows the interviewer (researcher) to gain more insight into the information provided by the research participant in the course of the conversation. 

survey-interview

An interview can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. In a structured interview, the researcher strictly adheres to a sequence of premeditated questions throughout the conversation. This is also known as a standardized interview or a researcher-administered interview and it often results in quantitative research findings. 

In a semi-structured interview, the researcher has a set of premeditated interview questions but he or she can veer off the existing interview sequence to get more answers and gain more clarity from the interviewee. The semi-structured interview method is flexible and allows the researcher to work outside the scope of the sequence while maintaining the basic interview framework. 

Just as the name suggests, an unstructured interview is one that doesn't restrict the researcher to a set of premeditated questions or the interview sequence. Here, the researcher is allowed to leverage his or her knowledge and to creatively weave questions to help him or her to get useful information from the participant. This is why it is also called an in-depth interview. 

Advantages of Interviews

  1. Interviews, especially face-to-face interviews, allow you to capture non-verbal nuances that provide more context around the interviewee’s responses. For instance, the interview can act in a certain way to suggest that he or she is uncomfortable with a particular question. 
  2. Interviews are more flexible as a method of survey research. With semi-structured and unstructured interviews, you can adjust the conversation sequence to suit prevailing circumstances. 

Disadvantages of Interviews

  1. It is expensive and time-consuming; especially when you have to interview large numbers of people. 
  2. It is subject to researcher bias which can affect the quality of data gathered at the end of the process. 

Surveys

A survey is a data collection tool that lists a set of structured questions to which respondents provide answers based on their knowledge and experiences. It is a standard data gathering process that allows you to access information from a predefined group of respondents during research. 

In a survey, you would find different types of questions based on the research context and the type of information you want to have access to. Many surveys combine open-ended and closed-ended questions including rating scales and semantic scales. This means you can use them for qualitative and quantitative research. 

Surveys come in 2 major formats; paper forms or online forms. A paper survey is a more traditional method of data collection and it can easily result in loss of data. Paper forms are also cumbersome to organize and process. 

Online surveys, on the other hand, are usually created via data collection platforms like Formplus. These platforms have form builders where you can create your survey from scratch using different form fields and features. On Formplus, you can also find different online survey templates for data collection. 

surveys

One of the many advantages of online surveys is accuracy as it typically records a lower margin of error than paper surveys. Also, online surveys are easier to administer as you can share them with respondents via email or social media channels. 

Advantages of Surveys

  1. Surveys allow you to gather data from a large sample size or research population. This helps to improve the validity and accuracy of your research findings. 
  2. The cost of creating and administering a survey is usually lower compared to other research methods. 
  3. It is a convenient method of data collection for the researcher and the respondents. 

Disadvantages of Surveys

  1. The validity of the research data can be affected by survey response bias. 
  2. High survey dropout rates can also affect the number of responses received in your survey. 

Observation 

Just as the name suggests, observation is a method of gathering data by paying attention to the actions and behaviors of the research subjects as they interact in their environment. This qualitative research method allows you to get first-hand information about the research subjects in line with the aims and objectives of your systematic investigation. 

If you have tried out this survey method, then you must have come across one or more of the 4 types of observation in research. These are; Complete observer method, observer as participant method, participant as observer method, and complete participant method. 

In the complete observer method, the researcher is entirely detached or absorbed from the research environment. This means that the participants are completely unaware of the researcher’s presence and this allows them to act naturally as they interact with their environment. You can think of it as a remote observation. 

The observer as participant method requires the researcher to be involved in the research environment; albeit with limited interaction with the participants. The participants typically know the researcher and may also be familiar with the goals and objectives of the systematic investigation. 

survey-observation

A good example of this is when a researcher visits a school to understand how students interact with each other during extra-curricular activities. In this case, the students may be fully aware of the research process; although they may not interact with the researcher. 

In the participant as observer method, the researcher has some kind of relationship with the participants and interacts with them often as he or she carries out the investigation. For instance, when an anthropologist goes to a host community for research, s/he builds a relationship with members of the community while the host community is aware of the research. 

In the complete participant method, the researcher interacts with the research participants and is also an active member of the research environment. However, the research participants remain unaware of the research process; they do not know that a researcher is among them and they also do not know that they are being observed. 

Advantages of Observation Method

  1. It is one of the simplest methods of data collection as it does not require specialization or expertise in many cases.
  2. The observation method helps you to formulate a valid research hypothesis for your systematic investigation. You can test this hypothesis via experimental research to get valid findings.  

Disadvantages of Observation Method

  1. When the participants know they are being observed, they may act differently and this can affect the accuracy of the information you gather. 
  2. Because observation is done in the participant’s natural environment; that is an environment without control, the findings from this process are not very reliable. 

Focus Groups

A focus group is an open conversation with a small number of carefully-selected participants who provide useful information for research. The selected participants are a subset of your research population and should represent the different groups in the larger population. 

In a focus group, the researcher can act as the moderator who sets the tone of the conversation and guides the discourse. The moderator ensures that the overall conversations are in line with the aims and objectives of the research and he or she also reduces the bias in the discussions.  

If you are conducting qualitative research with a large and diverse research population, then adopting focus groups is an effective and cost-efficient method of data collection. Typically, your focus group should have 6-10 participants, usually 8; including the moderator. 

survey-focus-group

Based on the focus of your research, you can adopt one or more types of focus groups for your investigation. Common types of focus groups you should consider include:

  • Dual-moderator focus group
  • Mini focus group
  • Client-involvement focus group
  • Virtual or online focus groups. 

Advantages of Focus Groups

  1. Focus groups are open-ended and this allows you to explore a variety of opinions and ideas that may come up during the discussions. 
  2. Focus groups help you to discover other salient points that you may not have considered in the systematic investigation. 

Disadvantages of Focus Groups

  1. Participants may not communicate their true thoughts and experiences and this affects the validity of the entire process.
  2. Participants can be easily influenced by the opinions of other people in the group. 

How to Conduct Online Surveys with Formplus  

As we’ve mentioned earlier, an online survey allows you to gather data from a large pool of respondents easily and conveniently. Unlike paper forms, online surveys are secure and it is also easy to distribute them and collate responses for valid research data. 

Formplus allows you to create your online survey in a few easy steps. It also has several features that make data collection and organization easy for you. Let’s show you how to conduct online surveys with Formplus. 

  • Create your Formplus account here. If you already have a Formplus account, you can log in at www.formpl.us

  • On your Formplus dashboard, you will find several buttons and options. Click on the “create new form” button located at the top left corner of the dashboard to begin. 
  • Now, you should have access to the form builder. The Formplus builder allows you to add different form fields to your survey by simply dragging and dropping them from the builder’s fields section into your form. You will find the fields section at the left corner of the form builder. 

  • First, add the title of your form by clicking on the title tab just at the top of the builder. 
  • Next, click on the different fields you'd like to have in your survey. You can add rating fields, number fields, and more than 30 other form fields as you like. 

  • After adding the fields to your survey, it is time to populate them with questions and answer-options as needed. Click on the small pencil icon located beside each field to access their unique editing tab. 
  • Apart from adding questions and answer-options to the fields, you can also make preferred fields to be compulsory or make them read-only. 
  • Save all the changes you have made to the form by clicking on the save icon at the top right corner. This gives you immediate access to the builder’s customization section. 

  • Formplus has numerous customization options that you can use to change the outlook and layout of your online survey without any knowledge of CSS. You can change your form font, add your organization’s logo, and also add preferred background images among other things. 

  • To start collecting responses in your online survey, you can use any of the Formplus multiple form sharing options. Go to the builder’s “share” section, choose your preferred option, and follow the prompt provided. If you have a WordPress website, you can add the survey to it via the WordPress plugin. 

  • Don't forget to track your form responses and other important data in our form analytics dashboard. 

Advantages of Online Surveys

  1. Online surveys are a faster method of data collection: They help you to save time by accelerating your data collection process. Typically, respondents would spend â…“ of the time used in completing a paper survey for an online survey. This means you will record almost-immediate responses from participants.  
  2. Apart from saving time, you also get to save cost. For instance, you do not have to spend money on printing paper surveys and transporting them to respondents. Also, many online survey tools have a free subscription plan and also support affordable premium subscription plans. You can check out Formplus pricing here
  3. Online surveys reduce the margin of error in data collection. This allows you to gather more accurate information and arrive at objective research findings. 
  4. It is flexible and allows participants to respond as is convenient. For instance, Formplus has a save and resume later feature that allows respondents to save an incomplete survey and finish up when it is more convenient. The order of the questions in an online survey can also be changed. 
  5. Online surveys make the data collection process easy and seamless. By leveraging the internet for distribution, you can gather information from thousands of people in your target population. 
  6. Because online surveys are very convenient, they result in increased survey response rates because participants can complete the survey according to their own pace, chosen time, and preferences.

Conclusion 

When conducting research, many survey methods can help you to gather, analyze and process data effectively. In this article, we have looked at some of these methods in detail including interviews, focus groups, and the observation approach. 

As we’ve shown you, each of these survey methods has its strengths and weaknesses. This is why your choice should be informed by the type of research you are conducting and what you want to get out of it. While some of these methods work best for qualitative research, others are better suited for quantitative data collection



  • Formplus Blog
  • on 11 min read

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