Survey Methodology

When it comes to collecting data, one of the best ways to do so is a survey. Most companies put out surveys of some kind for customers and employees at different points. But there’s more to a survey than just a series of questions. In fact, surveys typically have a method behind them to gather specific types of data and to make them as effective as possible. But what is a survey method? What is survey methodology? Read on to learn about survey methodology and why that matters.  

What Is Survey Methodology? 

What is survey methodology? To begin, it’s important to distinguish between a survey methodology and a survey method. A survey method is the process or tool you use to gather information via a survey. For example, you might create an online survey with multiple choice questions, and that would be your survey method. A survey method can be qualitative or quantitative. We’ll talk more about survey method options and their pros and cons later on. 

Survey methodology, on the other hand, is the study of survey methods. It’s looking at all of the survey methods available and using applied statistical information to determine what methods give certain errors and where accuracy can be improved. Essentially, survey methodology studies sampling techniques and practices and determines the accuracy, so researchers of all kinds can improve their methods and get more accurate results. 

What Is the Purpose of Survey Methodology? 

So what is the purpose of survey methodology? Why do we have an entire field of applied statistics working on surveys? It’s important to understand why survey methods matter first. Survey methods are designed to help researchers and companies get information as accurately as possible. After all, the data you gather isn’t worth much if it’s completely inaccurate or riddled with errors that make it difficult to use. Survey methods are how you get data. 

Survey methodology exists to support survey methods. Survey methodology is all about studying the ways to improve the accuracy of survey methods, so researchers and companies can get the most accurate results from their surveys. It’s a field that exists to minimize errors—any deviations from your desired outcome—and help create data that’s as accurate to a population as possible. 

Think about it this way. The common stats phrase for setting up a survey is, “Garbage in, garbage out.” That means that if your method gathers bad data, you’re going to get bad results. The bad data can come from a variety of sources, but one major source is that your tool for gathering the data isn’t very accurate. Survey methodology’s purpose is to make those tools as accurate as possible. It’s what helps researchers and companies get great tools or methods to gather reliable data and get accurate results. 

Types of Survey Methods

Now that it’s clear what the difference between survey methods and survey methodology are, we can look at common types of survey methods available. 

Quantitative and Qualitative

Methods can include both qualitative and quantitative data, but what’s the difference? Qualitative data is descriptive data and more conceptual data. For example, if your survey is gathering qualitative data, you would want to collect quotes from respondents and try to look at the emotions and sentiments of your potential customers, rather than performing a statistical analysis. Qualitative data is the heart of data. 

Quantitative data is data that’s numerical—or quantifiable. When you perform a quantitative survey, you’re gathering information you can do a statistical analysis on; you want to know numbers. While qualitative data is the heart of your data, quantitative data is the bones and muscles; it’s what gives your data structure and support. 

Both quantitative and qualitative data are incredibly important. When you’re choosing to collect data, think about what you hope to accomplish with your data and whether you’re collecting qualitative data or quantitative data. That’s an important part of your survey methods. 

Structured and Unstructured

Another important part of your methods is the structure you choose. Some surveys are very particularly structured while some or more unstructured and allow respondents more liberty with how they answer and where the conversation goes. To determine how much structure you want, think about what kind of data you want at the end. If you want very specific types of data and quantitative data, you would probably choose a structured method that has people responding to exactly what you’re exploring. 

If you’re looking more at qualitative data, you might find it beneficial to take either route. On paper, a structured survey might be easier and get you the information you need. In an interview survey, you could go either way—or even strike a balance between the two—depending on if you’re interested in seeing where the conversation ends up going or in gathering data on something specific. 

Open Ended or Closed Ended Questions

Now it’s time to think of the methods for questions. In general, you can gather information from open ended or closed ended questions. Open ended questions are ones without answer options, a yes or no response, or a true and false response. These kinds of questions are typically geared toward qualitative data (but can be flexible, of course). Closed ended questions typically have respondents choose from some kind of option or require a one-word or one-number kind of answer. These questions are common for quantitative methods. 

Ultimately, a great survey may combine both open ended and closed ended questions to get a variety of data. 

Survey Collection Methods

The final aspect of your survey methods is the method of collection. There are many ways to collect data, but these are a few common ways with their advantages and disadvantages: 

  • Face-to-face
    • Pros: very personal, allows you to see non-verbal nuance, flexible for both structured and unstructured questions
    • Cons: can be time consuming to set up and takes resources to make happen
  • Online
    • Pros: easy to organize, can be easy to get large amounts of data at once, digital responses that are easy to analyze
    • Cons: could be subject to survey response bias, respondents may not complete the entire survey
  • Observations
    • Pros: simple to do and doesn’t require expert design, great for testing hypotheses
    • Cons: could affect the accuracy, no controlled variables
  • Focus groups
    • Pros: easy for qualitative and unstructured data gathering, get a variety of perspectives, may lead to salient ideas you haven’t considered
    • Cons: participants might not reveal their true thoughts, opinions of the respondents could be influenced by other participants

As you can see, there are so many survey methods to choose from to consider. And survey methodology is all about how to make these methods more effective. 

How to Write a Survey Methodology

When you’re going to use a survey, you can write out your methodology—or all the components of your methods and how effective they may be. Here are the steps to writing a survey methodology: 

  • Define your sample group and size (evaluate for accuracy against the population)
  • Decide on your methods and data collection method (while evaluating the effectiveness of those choices)
  • Design your survey questions and remember to keep in mind: 
    • The approach
    • Your time frame
    • Your method of collection
    • The wording of questions
    • Biases
    • (Evaluating each of these helps determine the accuracy of your methods)
  • Collect data
  • Organize and analyze your results

At the end of it, your methodology is all about thinking about and evaluating your accuracy with your chosen survey methods. 

The Bottom Line

Surveying can be a lot—especially when you not only have to consider your methods but also your methodology. There’s a lot to consider for data collection and analysis. But you don’t have to do it alone. InMoment—a leader in survey creation, collection, and analysis—is here to support you. Contact us today to see how we can help you with your survey methodology. 

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