Survey vs. Questionnaire: Is There a Difference?

Market Research

Though many individuals use the terms “survey” and “questionnaire” interchangeably, they do not refer to the same concept. There are many similarities between surveys and questionnaires, which is why so many people — even researchers — often confuse the two.

If you’re looking to conduct research, perform a study or partake in another activity where data collection is necessary, it’s vital to discern between a survey and a questionnaire. Understanding the differences between these terms will help you better determine which is more beneficial to you, depending on your research goals and objectives.

What Is a Questionnaire?

Questionnaires are research tools that use a set of questions to collect data from respondents. These instruments are made primarily of closed-ended questions but sometimes feature a handful of open-ended questions.

There are two primary types of questionnaires — those that evaluate separate variables, such as preferences, behaviors and facts, and those that measure scalable factors, such as identities, traits and attributes. Researchers can conduct questionnaires through various administration methods, including online, through the phone, in person or through the mail.

What Is a Survey?

Surveys are research methods that use questionnaires to gather information from a specific set of respondents, evaluate this data and draw conclusions. Researchers use surveying strategies to generalize results and obtain accurate statistical analyses. This research process is typically used for scientific, academic and business research studies across practically every industry.

Surveys typically use a blend of closed- and open-ended questions to poll participants, meaning they can generate quantitative or qualitative data. The respondents who participate in surveys are chosen through standardized procedures and preliminary screenings to eliminate the risk of biases.

Differences and Similarities Between Surveys and Questionnaires

Questionnaires are research instruments comprising sets of questions used to obtain answers from respondents. On the other hand, surveys are research methods used to collect and evaluate data from predefined participants to gain insights. In short, the primary difference between surveys and questionnaires is that questionnaires are data collection instruments, while surveys are methods for data collection and analysis.

A questionnaire isn’t always conducted in the form of a survey, but a survey always contains a questionnaire. Though surveys feature questionnaires, they also consider survey design, sampling, data collection, aggregation and analysis.

Additional differences between surveys and questionnaires include:

Time: Questionnaires are usually faster than surveys, which require a longer time frame to complete.

Cost: Because questionnaires are faster to conduct, they’re also more cost-effective. Surveys are more expensive because they take a longer time to complete.

Questions: Surveys use a mixture of closed- and open-ended questions, while questionnaires primarily consist of closed-ended questions.

Answers: Because questionnaires use closed-ended questions, they tend to gather more objective answers. Due to their combination of closed- and open-ended questions, surveys can generate subjective or objective responses.

Why the Differences Matter

Through questionnaires help researchers collect answers, that doesn’t mean those responses will necessarily be used to generate any insights or conclusions. For the information to be valuable, it must be assessed, interpreted and grouped with answers from other respondents. This need for actionable intelligence is when questionnaires become part of a survey, where data can be aggregated and analyzed to identify trends and make predictions.

When to Use Questionnaires vs. Surveys

Though surveys ultimately offer more value for researchers than questionnaires, some situations warrant the use of stand-alone questionnaires over surveys. Questionnaires are the more logical option in instances where you want to compile an individual’s information for purposes like:

  • Accepting donations.
  • Creating email lists.
  • Gathering details for payment processing.
  • Conducting job interviews.

Surveys are more useful when you’re looking to receive feedback from your respondents and want to make inferences based on the acquired information. These methods are practical when you’re looking to achieve a focused goal and make it accessible to a target demographic.

Examples of situations where a survey would be the more suitable choice include:

  • Obtaining customer feedback after an experience.
  • Determining a product’s success.
  • Gauging employee satisfaction.
  • Conducting exit interviews.
  • Evaluating brand awareness.

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