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How to collect data with surveys

Make informed decisions by collecting useful data with surveys.

Surveys are incredibly versatile research tools. You can use them to reach your target audience to get actionable, reliable data. Surveys help you with gathering, measuring, and in some cases, analyzing data from your desired sources. Data you collect from survey responses is primary research data, and as such, it is the most reliable and accurate research data for any project.

Collecting data with surveys is a useful way to gather accurate information about both large and small groups that can be used to draw conclusions and inform important decisions.

Continue reading to learn key considerations and information about using surveys for collecting data.

There are four main types of surveys that can be used to collect data. Each form has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here, we describe each method, along with its advantages and disadvantages, so you can initiate your survey data collection with the method that works best for your resources and research study.

Online questionnaires are the most popular, least expensive, and most efficient way to collect data. With SurveyMonkey, you can easily create your survey, distribute it to your target audience, collect responses, and analyze data, all within one easy-to-use tool

Pros of online surveys

  • Higher response rates than other survey methods
  • Fast response times
  • Real-time data collection
  • Gather and process large amounts of data efficiently
  • Data analysis and visualization is included with SurveyMonkey
  • Highest level of accuracy

Cons of online surveys

  • Survey questions must be formulated 
  • May have to deal with “junk” filters in email providers
  • Difficulty reaching people who have limited access to internet service
  • Risk of survey fraud

Paper surveys include any type of surveys handed directly to participants to fill out manually (field research) and surveys that are mailed to participants.

Pros of paper surveys

  • Reach people in outlying areas 
  • Requires no special equipment other than a writing utensil
  • Can be given in-person or mailed
  • Suitable for those who are not tech-savvy

Cons of paper surveys

  • Requires more time and effort to create and administer
  • Harder to analyze data
  • Cost of postage and return postage if included
  • Risk of human error during data collection and analysis
  • Can be mistaken for “junk” mail
  • Least personal survey method

Telephone interviews are yet another way to survey your target market. They provide a more personal touch to your data collection, and trained interviewers can ask relevant follow-up questions or request elaboration.

Pros of phone surveys

  • Interviewer can establish rapport and trust
  • Wide geographic access
  • Higher response rate than paper surveys
  • Data gathered immediately

Cons of phone surveys

  • May be more expensive than other methods (depending on the required reach) 
  • Call may be mistaken for telemarketing 
  • Can be considered intrusive
  • Respondents may hang up if the survey is too long or complex
  • Time and effort goes into transcribing respondents’ answers 
  • Potential for bias or human error in transcribing responses

Face-to-face data collection can be an effective method for data collection. For example, if your participant needs to view or interact with a product, an in-person survey is necessary. 

Pros of in-person surveys

  • Can be conducted in any location
  • Collect verbal and physical cues
  • Interviewer controls the environment (e.g., restricts phone use)
  • Interaction may include all five senses

Cons of in-person surveys

  • Takes longer to collect data
  • High costs for interviewers and training
  • Data may be subject to interviewer’s bias
  • Limited sample size due to location, time constraints, number of interviewers
  • Requires more coordination and supervision than other survey methods

Before you can even begin your research, you must have goals in mind. What do you hope to learn? Do you have a hypothesis you want to prove or disprove? What kind of data do you need to collect? Once you’ve determined your research goals, you’ll need to choose the appropriate type of research to support that goal.

There are three types of survey research: exploratory, descriptive, and causal. Each type has a different purpose, so let’s look at each one to see how they are used. You can then choose your method depending on the kind of information you want to collect.

If your focus is on the discovery of ideas and insights, you’ll be best served by data gathered from exploratory research. This type of research is accomplished by using mostly open-ended questions. You’re looking for unique responses from participants as a way of obtaining a deeper understanding of your target audience. Your data will not be statistically measurable, but you will have qualitative data that reveals sentiment, which you couldn’t gather with a quantitative survey. 

Most online surveys fall into the category of descriptive research. This type of research uses predominantly quantitative questions, such as multiple choice, where the answers are predefined for the respondent. Your collected data will be mostly quantitative and statistically significant.

Descriptive research can be used to measure trends and changes in your respondent’s opinions, attitudes, and behaviors over time. Adding some qualitative questions in your survey research will dig into the “why” of the quantitative responses.

If you’re exploring the cause-and-effect relationship between variables, you’ll want to conduct causal research. This type of research, like descriptive research, is quantitative in nature. The objectives of causal research are to:

  • Understand which variables are the cause and which are the effect 
  • Decipher the relationship between the causal variables (including how they will produce the effect)

While there are several forms of survey data, they all fall into two broad categories, quantitative and qualitative data. As we mentioned above, exploratory research yields qualitative data, and both descriptive and causal research provide quantitative data. Let’s look closer at these two types of survey data.

Qualitative data comes in the form of words, sentences, and phrases. It provides insight into your respondents’ opinions, attitudes, impressions, and behaviors. The data is completely subjective and is provided in the respondents’ own words. When analyzing qualitative survey data, you’re looking at how your target audience thinks, how they feel, how they behave, and most importantly, why they do the things they do.

Qualitative data complements quantitative data by giving the meaning behind the numbers. SurveyMonkey provides a sentiment analysis tool that categorizes responses as positive, neutral, negative, or undetected. The tool can filter responses by sentiment within a question or the survey as a whole.

Quantitative data is expressed in numbers, quantities, and values. The hard data provides concrete findings. It is measurable, objective, and reliable. The data is collected through surveys with a variety of closed-ended questions. Quantitative data is useful in measuring trends over time, creating benchmarks, and proving or disproving hypotheses. This type of survey data is easier to analyze but generally requires a larger sample size to come to a credible conclusion.

Your quantitative research data can be expanded upon with qualitative data when necessary to delve into motivations, opinions, and attitudes.

The simplest way to get started using surveys to collect data is with premade templates. SurveyMonkey offers nearly 300 templates that you can customize to meet the needs of your research. One of the best things about starting with a template is that there are already questions provided. You can save time and effort by creating your survey with a premade template and customizing it. 

If you have a question you want to ask but aren’t sure quite how to word it, check out our Question Bank. This searchable library of questions is constantly updated and includes thousands of commonly asked questions in dozens of categories.

The following are just a few of our substantial collection of templates:

Do you need to do research on customer satisfaction? We suggest starting with our customer satisfaction survey template. To collect customer satisfaction data, you’ll need to use a variety of question types. For example, the Likert scale, open-ended, and nominal questions are commonly found in this type of survey. By using our template, you’ll find that these question types are already incorporated and available to customize for your research.

Try using the Net Promoter Score® (NPS) survey template to measure customer loyalty and the customer effort score template for feedback on a specific issue or experience. Customize these templates or add the questions to your customer satisfaction survey to gather comprehensive customer satisfaction data.  

Any time you want to understand more about your target audience’s needs and wants, marketing surveys should be your tool of choice. And we have templates to help you get started on all kinds of marketing research. Let’s look at a few examples.

These are just a small sample of the marketing survey templates we have available. They are all completely customizable, from adding your logo to uploading images and revising questions to match your brand persona.

Are you in need of information about how your employees feel about working for your company? Start with our employee satisfaction survey template. Collect data on how employees feel about the meaningfulness of their work, the level of challenge of their job, how often they feel stressed, and more. 

To expand on the data collected with the employee satisfaction survey, you can complement the data with an employee benefits survey or a work environment survey.

These are just a few of the templates offered by SurveyMonkey. We encourage you to explore our free survey templates to get started on collecting the survey data you require.

Once you’ve collected your survey data, it’s time to analyze and organize your findings so that you can present them to stakeholders and create action plans. With analysis, you can take your data and turn it into actionable insights. Fortunately, SurveyMonkey has built-in analytics tools to help you find the trends, patterns, and insights that you can use to improve your business.

With SurveyMonkey, you can view and analyze your data at any time during the collection process. Simply go to your dashboard, locate your study, and click Analyze.

Options for viewing data

Our default Analyze view is Question Summaries. This gives you an overall look at the data you received on a question level. You can customize each question’s data display with charts, formats, colors, and labels.

The next analysis view is Insights and Data Trends. The Insights section provides you with the total number of responses, completion rate, typical time spent taking the survey, and the most frequently skipped question. The Trends section shows responses by the hour for the overall survey and each question. Again, the data may be customized for viewing.

Individual Responses gives you another way to view your data—with information including how the participant reached the survey, the time they started and finished, time spent, and IP address, along with their individual responses to each question.

Add rules to analyze data

Rules allow you to break down and focus on certain subsets of your data. This allows you to analyze your results in the most meaningful way.

You can use:

  • Filter rules to focus on specific parts of your data.
  • Compare rules to choose two or more answer options from a question to compare the survey results side-by-side.
  • Show rules to select which pages or questions you want to focus on. 

Use multiple rules together to hone in on the data you want to analyze.

There are multiple choices for each type of rule, so find the one that best fits the data analysis you’re working on.

Export Data

Download your summary, all responses, individual responses, or export charts for offline use. This may include further analysis of raw data, printing, or utilizing it for physical presentation.

Now that you know how to collect data with surveys, it’s time to get started. What type of survey research will you be performing (exploratory, descriptive, or causal)? Collect both qualitative and quantitative data for the most insightful results. 

Begin with one of our many templates and customize it to your company and research. And don’t forget to take advantage of our useful analysis tools. Find the plan that works best for you, and begin collecting data today!