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20 Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research

Survey research is a critical component of measurement and applied social research. It is a broad area that encompasses many procedures that involve asking questions to specific respondents.

A survey can be anything from a short feedback form to intensive, in-depth interviews that attempt to gather specific data about situations, events, or circumstances. Although there are several methods of application that researchers can apply using this tool, you can divide surveys into two generic categories: interviews and questionnaires.

Innovations in this area in recent years allow for advanced software solutions to provide more data to researchers because of the availability of online and mobile surveys. That means the people who are in the most challenging places to reach can still provide feedback on critical ideas, services, or solutions.

Several survey research advantages and disadvantages exist, so reviewing each critical point is necessary to determine if there is value in using this approach for your next project.

List of the Advantages of Survey Research

1. It is an inexpensive method of conducting research. Surveys are one of the most inexpensive methods of gathering quantitative data that is currently available. Some questionnaires can be self-administered, making it a possibility to avoid in-person interviews. That means you have access to a massive level of information from a large demographic in a relatively short time. You can place this option on your website, email it to individuals, or post it on social media profile.

Some of these methods have no financial cost at all, relying on personal efforts to post and collect the information. Robust targeting is necessary to ensure that the highest possible response rate becomes available to create a more accurate result.

2. Surveys are a practical solution for data gathering. Surveys or a practical way to gather information about something specific. You can target them to a demographic of your choice or manage them in several different ways. It is up to you to determine what questions get asked and in what format. You can use polls, questionnaires, quizzes, open-ended questions, and multiple-choice to collect info in real-time situations so that the feedback is immediately useful.

3. It is a fast way to get the results that you need. Surveys provide fast and comfortable results because of today’s mobile and online tools. It is not unusual for this method of data collection to generate results in as little as one day, and sometimes it can be even less than that depending on the scale and reach of your questions. You no longer need to wait for another company to deliver the solutions that you need because these questionnaires give you insights immediately. That means you can start making decisions in the shortest amount of time possible.

4. Surveys provide opportunities for scalability. A well-constructed survey allows you to gather data from an audience of any size. You can distribute your questions to anyone in the world today because of the reach of the Internet. All you need to do is send them a link to the page where you solicit information from them. This process can be done automatically, allowing companies to increase the efficiency of their customer onboarding processes.

Marketers can also use surveys as a way to create lead nurturing campaigns. Scientific research gains a benefit through this process as well because it can generate social insights at a personal level that other methods are unable to achieve.

5. It allows for data to come from multiple sources at once. When you construct a survey to meet the needs of a demographic, then you have the ability to use multiple data points collected from various geographic locations. There are fewer barriers in place today with this method than ever before because of the online access we have around the world.

Some challenges do exist because of this benefit, namely because of the cultural differences that exist between different countries. If you conduct a global survey, then you will want to review all of the questions to ensure that an offense is not unintentionally given.

6. Surveys give you the opportunity to compare results. After researchers quantify the information collected from surveys, the data can be used to compare and contrast the results from other research efforts. This benefit makes it possible to use the info to measure change. That means a questionnaire that goes out every month or each year becomes more valuable over time.

When you can gather a significant amount of data, then the picture you are trying to interpret will become much clearer. Surveys provide the capability of generating new strategies or identifying new trends to create more opportunities.

7. It offers a straightforward analysis and visualization of the data. Most surveys are quantitative by design. This process allows for the advantage of a straightforward analysis process so that the results can be quickly visualized. That means a data scientist doesn’t need to be available to start the work of interpreting the results. You can take advantage of third-party software tools that can turn this info into usable reports, charts, and tables to facilitate the presentation efforts.

8. Survey respondents can stay anonymous with this research approach. If you choose to use online or email surveys, then there is a fantastic opportunity to allow respondents to remain anonymous. Complete invisibility is also possible with postal questionnaires, allowing researchers to maximize the levels of comfort available to the individuals who offer answers. Even a phone conversation doesn’t require a face-to-face meeting, creating this unique benefit.

When people have confidence in the idea that their responses will not be directly associated with their reputation, then researchers have an opportunity to collect information with greater accuracy.

9. It is a research tool with fewer time constraints. Surveys have fewer time limits associated with them when compared to other research methods. There is no one on the other end of an email or postal questionnaire that wants an immediate answer. That means a respondent can take additional time to complete each answer in the most comfortable way possible. This benefit is another way to encourage more honesty within the results since having a researcher presence can often lead to socially desirable answers.

10. Surveys can cover every component of any topic. Another critical advantage that surveys provide is the ability to ask as many questions as you want. There is a benefit in keeping an individual questionnaire short because a respondent may find a lengthy process to be frustrating. The best results typically come when you can create an experience that involves 10 or fewer questions.

Since this is a low-cost solution for gathering data, there is no harm in creating multiple surveys that have an easy mode of delivery. This benefit gives you the option to cover as many sub-topics as possible so that you can build a complete profile of almost any subject matter.

List of the Disadvantages of Survey Research

1. There is always a risk that people will provide dishonest answers. The risk of receiving a dishonest answer is lower when you use anonymous surveys, but it does not disappear entirely. Some people want to help researchers come to whatever specific conclusion they think the process is pursuing. There is also a level of social desirability bias that creeps into the data based on the interactions that respondents have with questionnaires. You can avoid some of this disadvantage by assuring individuals that their privacy is a top priority and that the process you use prevents personal information leaks, but you can’t stop this problem 100% of the time.

2. You might discover that some questions don’t get answers. If you decide to use a survey to gather information, then there is a risk that some questions will be left unanswered or ignored. If some questions are not required, then respondents might choose not to answer them. An easy way to get around this disadvantage is to use an online solution that makes answering questions a required component of each step. Then make sure that your survey stays short and to the point to avoid having people abandon the process altogether.

3. There can be differences in how people understand the survey questions. There can be a lot of information that gets lost in translation when researchers opt to use a survey instead of other research methods. When there is not someone available to explain a questionnaire entirely, then the results can be somewhat subjective. You must give everyone an opportunity to have some understanding of the process so that you can encourage accurate answers.

It is not unusual to have respondents struggle to grasp the meaning of some questions, even though the text might seem clear to the people who created it. Whenever miscommunication is part of the survey process, the results will skew in unintended directions. The only way to avoid this problem is to make the questions as simple as possible.

4. Surveys struggle to convey emotions with the achievable results. A survey does not do a good job of capturing a person’s emotional response to the questions then counter. The only way to gather this information is to have an in-person interview with every respondent. Facial expressions and other forms of body language can add subtlety to a conversation that isn’t possible when someone is filling out an online questionnaire.

Some researchers get stuck trying to interpret feelings in the data they receive. A sliding-scale response that includes various levels of agreement or disagreement can try to replicate the concept of emotion, but it isn’t quite the same as being in the same room as someone. Assertion and strength will always be better information-gathering tools than multiple-choice questions.

5. Some answers can be challenging to classify. Surveys produce a lot of data because of their nature. You can tabulate multiple-choice questions, graph agreement or disagreement in specific areas, or create open-ended questions that can be challenging to analyze. Individualized answers can create a lot of useful information, but they can also provide you with data that cannot be quantified. If you incorporate several questions of this nature into a questionnaire, then it will take a long time to analyze what you received.

Only 10% of the questions on the survey should have an open-ended structure. If the questions are confusing or bothersome, then you might find that the information you must manually review is mostly meaningless.

6. You must remove someone with a hidden agenda as soon as possible. Respondent bias can be a problem in any research type. Participants in your survey could have an interest in your idea, service, or product. Others might find themselves being influenced to participate because of the subject material found in your questionnaire. These issues can lead to inaccurate data gathering because it generates an imbalance of respondents who either see the process as overly positive or negative.

This disadvantage of survey research can be avoided by using effective pre-screening tools that use indirect questions that identify this bias.

7. Surveys don’t provide the same level of personalization. Any marketing effort will feel impersonal unless you take the time to customize the process. Because the information you want to collect on a questionnaire is generic by nature, it can be challenging to generate any interest in this activity because there is no value promised to the respondent. Some people can be put off by the idea of filling out a generic form, leading them to abandon the process.

This issue is especially difficult when your survey is taken voluntarily online, regardless of an email subscription or recent purchase.

8. Some respondents will choose answers before reading the questions. Every researcher hopes that respondents will provide conscientious responses to the questions offered in a survey. The problem here is that there is no way to know if the person filling out the questionnaire really understood the content provided to them. You don’t even have a guarantee that the individual read the question thoroughly before offering a response.

There are times when answers are chosen before someone fully reads the question and all of the answers. Some respondents skip through questions or make instant choices without reading the content at all. Because you have no way to know when this issue occurs, there will always be a measure of error in the collected data.

9. Accessibility issues can impact some surveys. A lack of accessibility is always a threat that researchers face when using surveys. This option might be unsuitable for individuals who have a visual or hearing impairment. Literacy is often necessary to complete this process. These issues should come under consideration during the planning stages of the research project to avoid this potential disadvantage. Then make the effort to choose a platform that has the accessibility options you need already built into it.

10. Survey fatigue can be a real issue that some respondents face. There are two issues that manifest themselves because of this disadvantage. The first problem occurs before someone even encounters your questionnaire. Because they feel overwhelmed by the growing number of requests for information, a respondent is automatically less inclined to participate in a research project. That results in a lower overall response rate.

Then there is the problem of fatigue that happens while taking a survey. This issue occurs when someone feels like the questionnaire is too long or contains questions that seem irrelevant. You can tell when this problem happens because a low completion rate is the result. Try to make the process as easy as possible to avoid the issues with this disadvantage.

Surveys sometimes have a poor reputation. Researchers have seen response rates decline because this method of data gathering has become unpopular since the 1990s. Part of the reason for this perception is due to the fact that everyone tries to use it online since it is a low-cost way to collect information for decision-making purposes.

That’s why researchers are moving toward a rewards-based system to encourage higher participation and completion rates. The most obvious way to facilitate this behavior is to offer something tangible, such as a gift card or a contest entry. You can generate more responses by creating an anonymous process that encourages direct and honest answers.

These survey research advantages and disadvantages prove that this process isn’t as easy as it might see from the outside. Until you sit down to start writing the questions, you may not entirely know where you want to take this data collection effort. By incorporating the critical points above, you can begin to craft questions in a way that encourages the completion of the activity.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research

Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research

Survey research is quickly becoming the number one tool that market researchers use to gather data. The advent of online survey tools has led to widespread use of quantitative surveys in order to collect, analyze, and use data that can contribute to a more effective business model, better marketing strategies, improved customer service and more.

Survey research methods have been shown time and time again to benefit market researchers and improve ROI. Yet depending on the type of research you are doing, survey research may not be as appropriate. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of surveys:

Advantages of Survey Research

Surveys – particularly online surveys – have a very small cost per participant. Even with incentives, the cost per response is often far less than the cost of running a focus group or a phone interview, while the responses you receive can number into the thousands.

  • Data Collection

Data collection is much easier with surveys, which tend to use easy to read data sources that can be compiled and analyzed as needed for your market research needs. The qualitative research techniques of other market research methods may yield some interesting answers, but the ability to analyze themes becomes a much more difficult (and possibly inaccurate) process.

  • Sample Size

Sample size is one of the most underrated aspects of all types of research, including market research. Far too many companies make the mistake of assuming their small sample of only a few dozen participants is enough to make any firm conclusions. Surveys allow you to reach thousands of possible participants if necessary, which ensures a more accurate sample in which to draw conclusions.

  • Candid Responses

The anonymity of surveys allows people to feel more candid with their responses. To get accurate data, you need your participants to be as honest as possible with their answers. Surveys provide more honest responses than other types of research methodology, especially if it is clear that the answers will remain confidential.

Disadvantages of Survey Research

  • Sample Choice

It’s up to the user to ensure they have a representative sample from which to collect data. Survey research is prone to researcher error, where assumptions are made about the sample that may not be accurate. For example, if you are researching low income communities, many may not have email access, so their voice won’t be heard in your data.

Another weakness of survey research is rigidity. Before you develop your survey, you need to remember to account for all possible answers and program the survey accordingly. If you fail to account for all possible answers you may be missing out on data. For example, if the participant wants to tell you something about your product, but doesn’t have space to do so, you will lose out on that data.

Survey Research for Marketing

Of all of the ways to perform market research, survey research is one of the most reliable and far reaching. It is, however, prone to user error. If the researcher is not prepared for running survey research, the data collected may not be as valuable. However, if the marketer understands how to use survey research effectively and accurately, it has been shown to be the best available way to collect and analyze data.

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Legitimate interests: The ability to provide adequate customer service and management of your customer account.

Our content, goods and services

When signing up for content, registering on our website or making a payment, we will use the information you provide in order to contact you regarding related content, products and services.

We will continue to send you marketing communications in relation to similar goods and services if you do not opt out from receiving them.

You can opt-out from receiving marketing communications at any time by emailing [email protected] .

Legitimate interests:  Sharing relevant, timely and industry-specific information on related business services, in order to help your organisation achieve its goals.

Third party goods and services

In addition to receiving information about our products and services, you can opt in to receiving marketing communications from us in relation third party goods and services by email by ticking a box indicating that you would like to receive such communications.

Legal basis for processing:  Consent (Article 6(1)(a) of the General Data Protection Regulation).

Consent:  You give your consent to us sending you information about third party goods and services by signing up to receive such information in accordance with the steps described above.

Information for marketing campaigns will be stored outside the European Economic Area on our third-party mailing list provider’s servers in the United States.

For further information about the safeguards used when your information is transferred outside the European Economic Area, see the section of this privacy policy below entitled 'Transfers of your information outside the European Economic Area'.

Use of tracking in emails

We use technologies such as tracking pixels (small graphic files) and tracked links in the emails we send to allow us to assess the level of engagement our emails receive by measuring information such as the delivery rates, open rates, click through rates and content engagement that our emails achieve.

This section sets out how we obtain or collect information about you from third parties.

Information received from third parties

We can often receive information about you from third parties. The third parties from which we receive information about you can include partner events within the marketing industry and other organisations that we have a professional affiliation with.

It is also possible that third parties with whom we have had no prior contact may provide us with information about you.

Information we obtain from third parties will generally be your name and contact details but will include any additional information about you which they provide to us.

Reason why necessary to perform a contract:  Where a third party has passed on information about you to us (such as your name and email address) in order for us to provide services to you, we will process your information in order to take steps at your request to enter into a contract with you and perform a contract with you (as the case may be).

Consent:  Where you have asked a third party to share information about you with us and the purpose of sharing that information is not related to the performance of a contract or services by us to you, we will process your information on the basis of your consent, which you give by asking the third party in question to pass on your information to us.

Legitimate interests:  Where a third party has shared information about you with us and you have not consented to the sharing of that information, we will have a legitimate interest in processing that information in certain circumstances.

For example, we would have a legitimate interest in processing your information to perform our obligations under a sub-contract with the third party, where the third party has the main contract with you. Our legitimate interest is the performance of our obligations under our sub-contract.

Similarly, third parties may pass on information about you to us if you have infringed or potentially infringed any of our legal rights. In this case, we will have a legitimate interest in processing that information to investigate and pursue any such potential infringement.

Information obtained by us from third parties

In certain circumstances (for example, to verify the information we hold about you or obtain missing information we require to provide you with a service) we will obtain information about you from certain publicly accessible sources, both EU and non-EU, such as Companies House, online customer databases, business directories, media publications, social media, and websites (including your own website if you have one).

In certain circumstances will also obtain information about you from private sources, both EU and non-EU, such as marketing data services.

Legitimate interests:  Sharing relevant, timely and industry-specific information on related business services.

Where we receive information about you in error

If we receive information about you from a third party in error and/or we do not have a legal basis for processing that information, we will delete your information.

This section sets out the circumstances in which will disclose information about you to third parties and any additional purposes for which we use your information.

Disclosure of your information to service providers

We use a number of third parties to provide us with services which are necessary to run our business or to assist us with running our business.

These include the following: Internet services, IT service providers and web developers.

Our third-party service providers are located both inside and outside of the European Economic Area.

Your information will be shared with these service providers where necessary to provide you with the service you have requested, whether that is accessing our website or ordering goods and services from us.

We do not display the identities of our service providers publicly by name for security and competitive reasons. If you would like further information about the identities of our service providers, however, please contact us directly by email and we will provide you with such information where you have a legitimate reason for requesting it (where we have shared your information with such service providers, for example).

Legal basis for processing:  Legitimate interests (Article 6(1)(f) of the General Data Protection Regulation).

Legitimate interest relied on:  Where we share your information with these third parties in a context other than where is necessary to perform a contract (or take steps at your request to do so), we will share your information with such third parties in order to allow us to run and manage our business efficiently.

Legal basis for processing:  Necessary to perform a contract and/or to take steps at your request prior to entering into a contract (Article 6(1)(b) of the General Data Protection Regulation).

Reason why necessary to perform a contract:  We may need to share information with our service providers to enable us to perform our obligations under that contract or to take the steps you have requested before we enter into a contract with you.

Disclosure and use of your information for legal reasons

Indicating possible criminal acts or threats to public security to a competent authority.

If we suspect that criminal or potential criminal conduct has occurred, we will in certain circumstances need to contact an appropriate authority, such as the police. This could be the case, for instance, if we suspect that fraud or a cyber-crime has been committed or if we receive threats or malicious communications towards us or third parties.

We will generally only need to process your information for this purpose if you were involved or affected by such an incident in some way.

Legitimate interests:  Preventing crime or suspected criminal activity (such as fraud).

In connection with the enforcement or potential enforcement our legal rights

We will use your information in connection with the enforcement or potential enforcement of our legal rights including, for example, sharing information with debt collection agencies if you do not pay amounts owed to us when you are contractually obliged to do so. Our legal rights may be contractual (where we have entered into a contract with you) or non-contractual (such as legal rights that we have under copyright law or tort law).

Legitimate interest:  Enforcing our legal rights and taking steps to enforce our legal rights.

In connection with a legal or potential legal dispute or proceedings

We may need to use your information if we are involved in a dispute with you or a third party for example, either to resolve the dispute or as part of any mediation, arbitration or court resolution or similar process.

Legitimate interest(s):  Resolving disputes and potential disputes.

This section sets out how long we retain your information. We have set out specific retention periods where possible. Where that has not been possible, we have set out the criteria we use to determine the retention period.

Retention periods

Server log information: We retain information on our server logs for 3 months.

Order information: When you place an order for goods and services, we retain that information for seven years following the end of the financial year in which you placed your order, in accordance with our legal obligation to keep records for tax purposes.

Correspondence and enquiries: When you make an enquiry or correspond with us for any reason, whether by email or via our contact form or by phone, we will retain your information for as long as it takes to respond to and resolve your enquiry, and for 36 further months, after which we will archive your information.

Newsletter: We retain the information you used to sign up for our newsletter for as long as you remain subscribed (i.e. you do not unsubscribe).

Registration: We retain the information you used to register for as long as you remain subscribed (i.e. you do not unsubscribe).

Criteria for determining retention periods

In any other circumstances, we will retain your information for no longer than necessary, taking into account the following:

  • the purpose(s) and use of your information both now and in the future (such as whether it is necessary to continue to store that information in order to continue to perform our obligations under a contract with you or to contact you in the future);
  • whether we have any legal obligation to continue to process your information (such as any record-keeping obligations imposed by relevant law or regulation);
  • whether we have any legal basis to continue to process your information (such as your consent);
  • how valuable your information is (both now and in the future);
  • any relevant agreed industry practices on how long information should be retained;
  • the levels of risk, cost and liability involved with us continuing to hold the information;
  • how hard it is to ensure that the information can be kept up to date and accurate; and
  • any relevant surrounding circumstances (such as the nature and status of our relationship with you).

We take appropriate technical and organisational measures to secure your information and to protect it against unauthorised or unlawful use and accidental loss or destruction, including:

  • only sharing and providing access to your information to the minimum extent necessary, subject to confidentiality restrictions where appropriate, and on an anonymised basis wherever possible;
  • using secure servers to store your information;
  • verifying the identity of any individual who requests access to information prior to granting them access to information;
  • using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software to encrypt any payment transactions you make on or via our website;
  • only transferring your information via closed system or encrypted data transfers;

Transmission of information to us by email

Transmission of information over the internet is not entirely secure, and if you submit any information to us over the internet (whether by email, via our website or any other means), you do so entirely at your own risk.

We cannot be responsible for any costs, expenses, loss of profits, harm to reputation, damages, liabilities or any other form of loss or damage suffered by you as a result of your decision to transmit information to us by such means.

Your information may be transferred and stored outside the European Economic Area (EEA) in the circumstances set out earlier in this policy.

We will also transfer your information outside the EEA or to an international organisation in order to comply with legal obligations to which we are subject (compliance with a court order, for example). Where we are required to do so, we will ensure appropriate safeguards and protections are in place.

Subject to certain limitations on certain rights, you have the following rights in relation to your information, which you can exercise by writing to the data controller using the details provided at the top of this policy.

  • to request access to your information and information related to our use and processing of your information;
  • to request the correction or deletion of your information;
  • to request that we restrict our use of your information;
  • to receive information which you have provided to us in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format (e.g. a CSV file) and the right to have that information transferred to another data controller (including a third-party data controller);
  • to object to the processing of your information for certain purposes (for further information, see the section below entitled 'Your right to object to the processing of your information for certain purposes'); and
  • to withdraw your consent to our use of your information at any time where we rely on your consent to use or process that information. Please note that if you withdraw your consent, this will not affect the lawfulness of our use and processing of your information on the basis of your consent before the point in time when you withdraw your consent.

In accordance with Article 77 of the General Data Protection Regulation, you also have the right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority, in particular in the Member State of your habitual residence, place of work or of an alleged infringement of the General Data Protection Regulation.

Further information on your rights in relation to your personal data as an individual

You can find out further information about your rights, as well as information on any limitations which apply to those rights, by reading the underlying legislation contained in Articles 12 to 22 and 34 of the General Data Protection Regulation, which is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/reform/files/regulation_oj_en.pdf

Verifying your identity where you request access to your information

Where you request access to your information, we are required by law to use all reasonable measures to verify your identity before doing so.

These measures are designed to protect your information and to reduce the risk of identity fraud, identity theft or general unauthorised access to your information.

How we verify your identity

Where we possess appropriate information about you on file, we will attempt to verify your identity using that information.

If it is not possible to identity you from such information, or if we have insufficient information about you, we may require original or certified copies of certain documentation in order to be able to verify your identity before we are able to provide you with access to your information.

We will be able to confirm the precise information we require to verify your identity in your specific circumstances if and when you make such a request.

Your right to object

You have the following rights in relation to your information, which you may exercise in the same way as you may exercise by writing to the data controller using the details provided at the top of this policy.

  • to object to us using or processing your information where we use or process it in order to  carry out a task in the public interest or for our legitimate interests , including ‘profiling’ (i.e. analysing or predicting your behaviour based on your information) based on any of these purposes; and
  • to object to us using or processing your information for  direct marketing purposes (including any profiling we engage in that is related to such direct marketing).

You may also exercise your right to object to us using or processing your information for direct marketing purposes by:

  • clicking the unsubscribe link contained at the bottom of any marketing email we send to you and following the instructions which appear in your browser following your clicking on that link;
  • sending an email to [email protected] , asking that we stop sending you marketing communications or by including the words “OPT OUT”.

Sensitive Personal Information

‘Sensitive personal information’ is information about an individual that reveals their racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, genetic information, biometric information for the purpose of uniquely identifying an individual, information concerning health or information concerning a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation.

Our website may allow you to register ‘Sensitive Information’, however when we ask for this, you will be considered to have explicitly consented to us processing that sensitive personal information under Article 9(2)(a) of the General Data Protection Regulation.

We update and amend our Privacy Policy from time to time.

Minor changes to our Privacy Policy 

Where we make minor changes to our Privacy Policy, we will update our Privacy Policy with a new effective date stated at the beginning of it. Our processing of your information will be governed by the practices set out in that new version of the Privacy Policy from its effective date onwards.

Major changes to our Privacy Policy or the purposes for which we process your information 

Where we make major changes to our Privacy Policy or intend to use your information for a new purpose or a different purpose than the purposes for which we originally collected it, we will notify you by email (where possible) or by posting a notice on our website.

We will provide you with the information about the change in question and the purpose and any other relevant information before we use your information for that new purpose.

Wherever required, we will obtain your prior consent before using your information for a purpose that is different from the purposes for which we originally collected it.

Because we care about the safety and privacy of children online, we comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). COPPA and its accompanying regulations protect the privacy of children using the internet. We do not knowingly contact or collect information from persons under the age of 18. The website is not intended to solicit information of any kind from persons under the age of 18.

It is possible that we could receive information pertaining to persons under the age of 18 by the fraud or deception of a third party. If we are notified of this, as soon as we verify the information, we will, where required by law to do so, immediately obtain the appropriate parental consent to use that information or, if we are unable to obtain such parental consent, we will delete the information from our servers. If you would like to notify us of our receipt of information about persons under the age of 18, please do so by contacting us by using the details at the top of this policy.

Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.

If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.

OUR COOKIES AND YOU

Hello! If you are reading this, then you care about privacy – and your privacy is very important to us. Cookies are an important part of almost all online companies these days, and this page describes what they are, how we use them, what data they collect, and most importantly, how you can change your browser settings to turn them off.

WHAT IS A COOKIE?

A cookie is a file containing an identifier (a string of letters and numbers) that is sent by a web server to a web browser and is stored by the browser. The identifier is then sent back to the server each time the browser requests a page from the server.

Cookies may be either “persistent” cookies or “session” cookies: a persistent cookie will be stored by a web browser and will remain valid until its set expiry date, unless deleted by the user before the expiry date; a session cookie, on the other hand, will expire at the end of the user session, when the web browser is closed.

Cookies do not typically contain any information that personally identifies a user, but personal information that we store about you may be linked to the information stored in and obtained from cookies.

HOW WE USE COOKIES?

We use cookies for a number of different purposes. Some cookies are necessary for technical reasons; some enable a personalized experience for both visitors and registered users; and some allow the display of advertising from selected third party networks. Some of these cookies may be set when a page is loaded, or when a visitor takes a particular action (clicking the “like” or “follow” button on a post, for example).

WHAT COOKIES DO SURVEYMETHODS.COM USE?

We use cookies for the following purposes:

WHAT COOKIES ARE USED BY OUR SERVICE PROVIDERS?

Our service providers use cookies and those cookies may be stored on your computer when you visit our website.

Google Analytics

We use Google Analytics to analyse the use of our website. Google Analytics gathers information about website use by means of cookies. The information gathered relating to our website is used to create reports about the use of our website. Google’s privacy policy is available at https://www.google.com/policies/privacy/

DoubleClick/Google Adwords

We use Google Adwords which also owns DoubleClick for marketing and remarketing purposes.  Cookies are placed on your PC to help us track our adverts performance, as well as to help tailor our marketing to your needs.  You can view Googles Privacy policy here https://policies.google.com/privacy

Facebook and Facebook Pixel

We use Facebook and Facebook Pixel to track our campaigns and to provide social media abilities on our website such as visiting our Facebook page, liking content and more. To view Facebooks Privacy Policy click here https://www.facebook.com/policy.php .

We use hubspot to manage our relationship with our customers and to track conversions on our website.  You can view HubSpots Privacy Policy here https://legal.hubspot.com/privacy-policy

MANAGING COOKIES

Most browsers allow you to refuse to accept cookies and to delete cookies. The methods for doing so vary from browser to browser, and from version to version. You can, however, obtain up-to-date information about blocking and deleting cookies via these links:

https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95647?hl=en

https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/enable-and-disable-cookies-website-preferences

https://www.opera.com/help/tutorials/security/cookies/

https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/17442/windows-internet-explorer-delete-manage-cookies

https://support.apple.com/kb/PH21411

https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10-microsoft-edge

Blocking all cookies will have a negative impact upon the usability of many websites. If you block cookies, you will not be able to use all the features on our website.

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Survey Research — Types, Methods and Example Questions

Survey research The world of research is vast and complex, but with the right tools and understanding, it's an open field of discovery. Welcome to a journey into the heart of survey research. What is survey research? Survey research is the lens through which we view the opinions, behaviors, and experiences of a population. Think of it as the research world's detective, cleverly sleuthing out the truths hidden beneath layers of human complexity. Why is survey research important? Survey research is a Swiss Army Knife in a researcher's toolbox. It’s adaptable, reliable, and incredibly versatile, but its real power? It gives voice to the silent majority. Whether it's understanding customer preferences or assessing the impact of a social policy, survey research is the bridge between unanswered questions and insightful data. Let's embark on this exploration, armed with the spirit of openness, a sprinkle of curiosity, and the thirst for making knowledge accessible. As we journey further into the realm of survey research, we'll delve deeper into the diverse types of surveys, innovative data collection methods, and the rewards and challenges that come with them. Types of survey research Survey research is like an artist's palette, offering a variety of types to suit your unique research needs. Each type paints a different picture, giving us fascinating insights into the world around us. Cross-Sectional Surveys: Capture a snapshot of a population at a specific moment in time. They're your trusty Polaroid camera, freezing a moment for analysis and understanding. Longitudinal Surveys: Track changes over time, much like a time-lapse video. They help to identify trends and patterns, offering a dynamic perspective of your subject. Descriptive Surveys: Draw a detailed picture of the current state of affairs. They're your magnifying glass, examining the prevalence of a phenomenon or attitudes within a group. Analytical Surveys: Deep dive into the reasons behind certain outcomes. They're the research world's version of Sherlock Holmes, unraveling the complex web of cause and effect. But, what method should you choose for data collection? The plot thickens, doesn't it? Let's unravel this mystery in our next section. Survey research and data collection methods Data collection in survey research is an art form, and there's no one-size-fits-all method. Think of it as your paintbrush, each stroke represents a different way of capturing data. Online Surveys: In the digital age, online surveys have surged in popularity. They're fast, cost-effective, and can reach a global audience. But like a mysterious online acquaintance, respondents may not always be who they say they are. Mail Surveys: Like a postcard from a distant friend, mail surveys have a certain charm. They're great for reaching respondents without internet access. However, they’re slower and have lower response rates. They’re a test of patience and persistence. Telephone Surveys: With the sound of a ringing phone, the human element enters the picture. Great for reaching a diverse audience, they bring a touch of personal connection. But, remember, not all are fans of unsolicited calls. Face-to-Face Surveys: These are the heart-to-heart conversations of the survey world. While they require more resources, they're the gold standard for in-depth, high-quality data. As we journey further, let’s weigh the pros and cons of survey research. Advantages and disadvantages of survey research Every hero has its strengths and weaknesses, and survey research is no exception. Let's unwrap the gift box of survey research to see what lies inside. Advantages: Versatility: Like a superhero with multiple powers, surveys can be adapted to different topics, audiences, and research needs. Accessibility: With online surveys, geographical boundaries dissolve. We can reach out to the world from our living room. Anonymity: Like a confessional booth, surveys allow respondents to share their views without fear of judgment. Disadvantages: Response Bias: Ever met someone who says what you want to hear? Survey respondents can be like that too. Limited Depth: Like a puddle after a rainstorm, some surveys only skim the surface of complex issues. Nonresponse: Sometimes, potential respondents play hard to get, skewing the data. Survey research may have its challenges, but it also presents opportunities to learn and grow. As we forge ahead on our journey, we dive into the design process of survey research. Limitations of survey research Every research method has its limitations, like bumps on the road to discovery. But don't worry, with the right approach, these challenges become opportunities for growth. Misinterpretation: Sometimes, respondents might misunderstand your questions, like a badly translated novel. To overcome this, keep your questions simple and clear. Social Desirability Bias: People often want to present themselves in the best light. They might answer questions in a way that portrays them positively, even if it's not entirely accurate. Overcome this by ensuring anonymity and emphasizing honesty. Sample Representation: If your survey sample isn't representative of the population you're studying, it can skew your results. Aiming for a diverse sample can mitigate this. Now that we're aware of the limitations let's delve into the world of survey design. {loadmoduleid 430} Survey research design Designing a survey is like crafting a roadmap to discovery. It's an intricate process that involves careful planning, innovative strategies, and a deep understanding of your research goals. Let's get started. Approach and Strategy Your approach and strategy are the compasses guiding your survey research. Clear objectives, defined research questions, and an understanding of your target audience lay the foundation for a successful survey. Panel The panel is the heartbeat of your survey, the respondents who breathe life into your research. Selecting a representative panel ensures your research is accurate and inclusive. 9 Tips on Building the Perfect Survey Research Questionnaire Keep It Simple: Clear and straightforward questions lead to accurate responses. Make It Relevant: Ensure every question ties back to your research objectives. Order Matters: Start with easy questions to build rapport and save sensitive ones for later. Avoid Double-Barreled Questions: Stick to one idea per question. Offer a Balanced Scale: For rating scales, provide an equal number of positive and negative options. Provide a ‘Don't Know’ Option: This prevents guessing and keeps your data accurate. Pretest Your Survey: A pilot run helps you spot any issues before the final launch. Keep It Short: Respect your respondents' time. Make It Engaging: Keep your respondents interested with a mix of question types. Survey research examples and questions Examples serve as a bridge connecting theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. Let's consider a few practical examples of survey research across various domains. User Experience (UX) Imagine being a UX designer at a budding tech start-up. Your app is gaining traction, but to keep your user base growing and engaged, you must ensure that your app's UX is top-notch. In this case, a well-designed survey could be a beacon, guiding you toward understanding user behavior, preferences, and pain points. Here's an example of how such a survey could look: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the ease of navigating our app?" "How often do you encounter difficulties while using our app?" "What features do you use most frequently in our app?" "What improvements would you suggest for our app?" "What features would you like to see in future updates?" This line of questioning, while straightforward, provides invaluable insights. It enables the UX designer to identify strengths to capitalize on and weaknesses to improve, ultimately leading to a product that resonates with users. Psychology and Ethics in survey research The realm of survey research is not just about data and numbers, but it's also about understanding human behavior and treating respondents ethically. Psychology: In-depth understanding of cognitive biases and social dynamics can profoundly influence survey design. Let's take the 'Recency Effect,' a psychological principle stating that people tend to remember recent events more vividly than those in the past. While framing questions about user experiences, this insight could be invaluable. For example, a question like "Can you recall an instance in the past week when our customer service exceeded your expectations?" is likely to fetch more accurate responses than asking about an event several months ago. Ethics: On the other hand, maintaining privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent is more than ethical - it's fundamental to the integrity of the research process. Imagine conducting a sensitive survey about workplace culture. Ensuring respondents that their responses will remain confidential and anonymous can encourage more honest responses. An introductory note stating these assurances, along with a clear outline of the survey's purpose, can help build trust with your respondents. Survey research software In the age of digital information, survey research software has become a trusted ally for researchers. It simplifies complex processes like data collection, analysis, and visualization, democratizing research and making it more accessible to a broad audience. LimeSurvey, our innovative, user-friendly tool, brings this vision to life. It stands at the crossroads of simplicity and power, embodying the essence of accessible survey research. Whether you're a freelancer exploring new market trends, a psychology student curious about human behavior, or an HR officer aiming to improve company culture, LimeSurvey empowers you to conduct efficient, effective research. Its suite of features and intuitive design matches your research pace, allowing your curiosity to take the front seat. For instance, consider you're a researcher studying consumer behavior across different demographics. With LimeSurvey, you can easily design demographic-specific questions, distribute your survey across various channels, collect responses in real-time, and visualize your data through intuitive dashboards. This synergy of tools and functionalities makes LimeSurvey a perfect ally in your quest for knowledge. Conclusion If you've come this far, we can sense your spark of curiosity. Are you eager to take the reins and conduct your own survey research? Are you ready to embrace the simple yet powerful tool that LimeSurvey offers? If so, we can't wait to see where your journey takes you next! In the world of survey research, there's always more to explore, more to learn and more to discover. So, keep your curiosity alive, stay open to new ideas, and remember, your exploration is just beginning! We hope that our exploration has been as enlightening for you as it was exciting for us. Remember, the journey doesn't end here. With the power of knowledge and the right tools in your hands, there's no limit to what you can achieve. So, let your curiosity be your guide and dive into the fascinating world of survey research with LimeSurvey! Try it out for free now! Happy surveying! {loadmoduleid 429}

survey research design advantages and disadvantages

Table Content

Survey research.

The world of research is vast and complex, but with the right tools and understanding, it's an open field of discovery. Welcome to a journey into the heart of survey research.

What is survey research?

Survey research is the lens through which we view the opinions, behaviors, and experiences of a population. Think of it as the research world's detective, cleverly sleuthing out the truths hidden beneath layers of human complexity.

Why is survey research important?

Survey research is a Swiss Army Knife in a researcher's toolbox. It’s adaptable, reliable, and incredibly versatile, but its real power? It gives voice to the silent majority. Whether it's understanding customer preferences or assessing the impact of a social policy, survey research is the bridge between unanswered questions and insightful data.

Let's embark on this exploration, armed with the spirit of openness, a sprinkle of curiosity, and the thirst for making knowledge accessible. As we journey further into the realm of survey research, we'll delve deeper into the diverse types of surveys, innovative data collection methods, and the rewards and challenges that come with them.

Types of survey research

Survey research is like an artist's palette, offering a variety of types to suit your unique research needs. Each type paints a different picture, giving us fascinating insights into the world around us.

  • Cross-Sectional Surveys: Capture a snapshot of a population at a specific moment in time. They're your trusty Polaroid camera, freezing a moment for analysis and understanding.
  • Longitudinal Surveys: Track changes over time, much like a time-lapse video. They help to identify trends and patterns, offering a dynamic perspective of your subject.
  • Descriptive Surveys: Draw a detailed picture of the current state of affairs. They're your magnifying glass, examining the prevalence of a phenomenon or attitudes within a group.
  • Analytical Surveys: Deep dive into the reasons behind certain outcomes. They're the research world's version of Sherlock Holmes, unraveling the complex web of cause and effect.

But, what method should you choose for data collection? The plot thickens, doesn't it? Let's unravel this mystery in our next section.

Survey research and data collection methods

Data collection in survey research is an art form, and there's no one-size-fits-all method. Think of it as your paintbrush, each stroke represents a different way of capturing data.

  • Online Surveys: In the digital age, online surveys have surged in popularity. They're fast, cost-effective, and can reach a global audience. But like a mysterious online acquaintance, respondents may not always be who they say they are.
  • Mail Surveys: Like a postcard from a distant friend, mail surveys have a certain charm. They're great for reaching respondents without internet access. However, they’re slower and have lower response rates. They’re a test of patience and persistence.
  • Telephone Surveys: With the sound of a ringing phone, the human element enters the picture. Great for reaching a diverse audience, they bring a touch of personal connection. But, remember, not all are fans of unsolicited calls.
  • Face-to-Face Surveys: These are the heart-to-heart conversations of the survey world. While they require more resources, they're the gold standard for in-depth, high-quality data.

As we journey further, let’s weigh the pros and cons of survey research.

Advantages and disadvantages of survey research

Every hero has its strengths and weaknesses, and survey research is no exception. Let's unwrap the gift box of survey research to see what lies inside.

Advantages:

  • Versatility: Like a superhero with multiple powers, surveys can be adapted to different topics, audiences, and research needs.
  • Accessibility: With online surveys, geographical boundaries dissolve. We can reach out to the world from our living room.
  • Anonymity: Like a confessional booth, surveys allow respondents to share their views without fear of judgment.

Disadvantages:

  • Response Bias: Ever met someone who says what you want to hear? Survey respondents can be like that too.
  • Limited Depth: Like a puddle after a rainstorm, some surveys only skim the surface of complex issues.
  • Nonresponse: Sometimes, potential respondents play hard to get, skewing the data.

Survey research may have its challenges, but it also presents opportunities to learn and grow. As we forge ahead on our journey, we dive into the design process of survey research.

Limitations of survey research

Every research method has its limitations, like bumps on the road to discovery. But don't worry, with the right approach, these challenges become opportunities for growth.

Misinterpretation: Sometimes, respondents might misunderstand your questions, like a badly translated novel. To overcome this, keep your questions simple and clear.

Social Desirability Bias: People often want to present themselves in the best light. They might answer questions in a way that portrays them positively, even if it's not entirely accurate. Overcome this by ensuring anonymity and emphasizing honesty.

Sample Representation: If your survey sample isn't representative of the population you're studying, it can skew your results. Aiming for a diverse sample can mitigate this.

Now that we're aware of the limitations let's delve into the world of survey design.

  •   Create surveys in 40+ languages
  •   Unlimited number of users
  •   Ready-to-go survey templates
  •   So much more...

Survey research design

Designing a survey is like crafting a roadmap to discovery. It's an intricate process that involves careful planning, innovative strategies, and a deep understanding of your research goals. Let's get started.

Approach and Strategy

Your approach and strategy are the compasses guiding your survey research. Clear objectives, defined research questions, and an understanding of your target audience lay the foundation for a successful survey.

The panel is the heartbeat of your survey, the respondents who breathe life into your research. Selecting a representative panel ensures your research is accurate and inclusive.

9 Tips on Building the Perfect Survey Research Questionnaire

  • Keep It Simple: Clear and straightforward questions lead to accurate responses.
  • Make It Relevant: Ensure every question ties back to your research objectives.
  • Order Matters: Start with easy questions to build rapport and save sensitive ones for later.
  • Avoid Double-Barreled Questions: Stick to one idea per question.
  • Offer a Balanced Scale: For rating scales, provide an equal number of positive and negative options.
  • Provide a ‘Don't Know’ Option: This prevents guessing and keeps your data accurate.
  • Pretest Your Survey: A pilot run helps you spot any issues before the final launch.
  • Keep It Short: Respect your respondents' time.
  • Make It Engaging: Keep your respondents interested with a mix of question types.

Survey research examples and questions

Examples serve as a bridge connecting theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. Let's consider a few practical examples of survey research across various domains.

User Experience (UX)

Imagine being a UX designer at a budding tech start-up. Your app is gaining traction, but to keep your user base growing and engaged, you must ensure that your app's UX is top-notch. In this case, a well-designed survey could be a beacon, guiding you toward understanding user behavior, preferences, and pain points.

Here's an example of how such a survey could look:

  • "On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the ease of navigating our app?"
  • "How often do you encounter difficulties while using our app?"
  • "What features do you use most frequently in our app?"
  • "What improvements would you suggest for our app?"
  • "What features would you like to see in future updates?"

This line of questioning, while straightforward, provides invaluable insights. It enables the UX designer to identify strengths to capitalize on and weaknesses to improve, ultimately leading to a product that resonates with users.

Psychology and Ethics in survey research

The realm of survey research is not just about data and numbers, but it's also about understanding human behavior and treating respondents ethically.

Psychology: In-depth understanding of cognitive biases and social dynamics can profoundly influence survey design. Let's take the 'Recency Effect,' a psychological principle stating that people tend to remember recent events more vividly than those in the past. While framing questions about user experiences, this insight could be invaluable.

For example, a question like "Can you recall an instance in the past week when our customer service exceeded your expectations?" is likely to fetch more accurate responses than asking about an event several months ago.

Ethics: On the other hand, maintaining privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent is more than ethical - it's fundamental to the integrity of the research process.

Imagine conducting a sensitive survey about workplace culture. Ensuring respondents that their responses will remain confidential and anonymous can encourage more honest responses. An introductory note stating these assurances, along with a clear outline of the survey's purpose, can help build trust with your respondents.

Survey research software

In the age of digital information, survey research software has become a trusted ally for researchers. It simplifies complex processes like data collection, analysis, and visualization, democratizing research and making it more accessible to a broad audience.

LimeSurvey, our innovative, user-friendly tool, brings this vision to life. It stands at the crossroads of simplicity and power, embodying the essence of accessible survey research.

Whether you're a freelancer exploring new market trends, a psychology student curious about human behavior, or an HR officer aiming to improve company culture, LimeSurvey empowers you to conduct efficient, effective research. Its suite of features and intuitive design matches your research pace, allowing your curiosity to take the front seat.

For instance, consider you're a researcher studying consumer behavior across different demographics. With LimeSurvey, you can easily design demographic-specific questions, distribute your survey across various channels, collect responses in real-time, and visualize your data through intuitive dashboards. This synergy of tools and functionalities makes LimeSurvey a perfect ally in your quest for knowledge.

If you've come this far, we can sense your spark of curiosity. Are you eager to take the reins and conduct your own survey research? Are you ready to embrace the simple yet powerful tool that LimeSurvey offers? If so, we can't wait to see where your journey takes you next!

In the world of survey research, there's always more to explore, more to learn and more to discover. So, keep your curiosity alive, stay open to new ideas, and remember, your exploration is just beginning!

We hope that our exploration has been as enlightening for you as it was exciting for us. Remember, the journey doesn't end here. With the power of knowledge and the right tools in your hands, there's no limit to what you can achieve. So, let your curiosity be your guide and dive into the fascinating world of survey research with LimeSurvey! Try it out for free now!

Happy surveying!

Think one step ahead.

Step into a bright future with our simple online survey tool

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Survey research, as with all methods of data collection, comes with both strengths and weaknesses. The following sections will examine both.

Strengths of survey method

Researchers employing survey methods to collect data enjoy a number of benefits. First, surveys are an excellent way to gather lots of information from many people, and they are relatively cost effective.

Related to the benefit of cost effectiveness is a survey’s potential for generalizability. Because surveys allow researchers to collect data from very large samples for a relatively low cost, survey methods lend themselves to probability sampling techniques, which we discussed in Chapter 7 “Sampling“. Of all the data-collection methods described in this text, survey research is probably the best method to use when you hope to gain a representative picture of the attitudes and characteristics of a large group.

Survey research also tends to be a reliable method of inquiry. This is because surveys are standardized; the same questions, phrased in exactly the same way, are posed to participants. Other methods, such as qualitative interviewing, which you will learn about in Chapter 10 “Qualitative Data Collection Methods” , do not offer the same level of consistency that a quantitative survey offers. One strength of survey methodology is its potential to produce reliable results. This is not to say that all surveys are always reliable. A poorly-phrased question can cause respondents to interpret its meaning differently, which can reduce that question’s reliability.

The versatility of survey research is also an asset. Surveys are used by all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. The versatility offered by survey research means that understanding how to construct and administer surveys is a useful skill to have for all kinds of jobs. For example, lawyers often use surveys in their efforts to select juries. Social service and other organizations (e.g., churches, clubs, fundraising groups, and activist groups) use them to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts. Businesses use them to learn how to market their products. Governments use them to understand community opinions and needs, and politicians and media outlets use surveys to understand their constituencies.

The following are benefits of survey research:

  • Cost-effectiveness.
  • Generalizability.
  • Reliability.
  • Versatility.

Weaknesses of survey method

As with all methods of data collection, survey research also comes with a few drawbacks. First, while one might argue that surveys are flexible in the sense that they can ask any number of questions on any number of topics, the fact that the survey researcher is generally stuck with a single instrument for collecting data (the questionnaire) means that surveys could also be described as inflexible. For example, suppose you mail a survey out to 1,000 people and then discover, as responses start coming in, that your phrasing on a particular question seems to be confusing a number of respondents. At this stage, it is too late to change the question for the respondents who have not yet returned their surveys (however, if you conduct a pilot study first, you should avoid such a situation). When conducting in-depth interviews, on the other hand, a researcher can provide respondents further explanation if they are confused by a question, and can tweak their questions as they learn more about how respondents seem to understand them.

Validity can also be a problem with surveys. Survey questions are standardized; thus, it can be difficult to ask anything other than very general questions that a broad range of people will understand. Because of this, survey results may not be as valid as results obtained using methods of data collection that allow a researcher to more comprehensively examine the topic being studied.

Potential drawbacks to survey research include:

  • Inflexibility; and

Research Methods, Data Collection and Ethics Copyright © 2020 by Valerie Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Child Care and Early Education Research Connections

Survey research and questionnaires.

Descriptions of key issues in survey research and questionnaire design are highlighted in the following sections. Modes of data collection approaches are described together with their advantages and disadvantages. Descriptions of commonly used sampling designs are provided and the primary sources of survey error are identified. Terms relating to the topics discussed here are defined in the  Research Glossary .

Survey Research

Questionnaire design, modes of survey administration, sources of error.

Survey research is a commonly-used method of collecting information about a population of interest. The population may be composed of a group of individuals (e.g., children under age five, kindergarteners, parents of young children) or organizations (e.g., early care and education programs, k-12 public and private schools).

There are many different types of surveys, several ways to administer them, and different methods for selecting the sample of individuals or organizations that will be invited to participate. Some surveys collect information on all members of a population and others collect data on a subset of a population. Examples of the former are the National Center for Education Statistics'  Common Core of Data  and the Administration for Children and Families'  Survey of Early Head Start Programs  (PDF).

A survey may be administered to a sample of individuals (or to the entire population) at a single point in time (cross-sectional survey), or the same survey may be administered to different samples from the population at different time points (repeat cross-sectional). Other surveys may be administered to the same sample of individuals at different time points (longitudinal survey). The Survey of Early Head Start Programs is an example of a cross-sectional survey and the National Household Education Survey Program is an example of a repeat cross-sectional survey. Examples of longitudinal surveys include the  Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey  and the  Early Childhood Longitudinal Study , Birth and Kindergarten Cohorts.

Regardless of the type of survey, there are two key features of survey research:

  • Questionnaires—a predefined series of questions used to collect information from individuals.

Sampling—a technique in which a subgroup of the population is selected to answer the survey questions. Depending on the sampling method, the information collected may or may not be generalized to the entire population of interest.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) offers recommendations on how to produce the best survey possible:  Best Practices for Survey Research .

AAPOR also provides guidelines on how to assess the quality of a survey:  Evaluating Survey Quality in Today's Complex Environment .

Advantages and Disadvantages of Survey Research

  • Surveys are a cost-effective and efficient means of gathering information about a population.
  • Data can be collected from a large number of respondents. In general, the larger the number of respondents (i.e., the larger the sample size), the more accurate will be the information that is derived from the survey.
  • Sampling using probability methods to select potential survey respondents makes it possible to estimate the characteristics (e.g., socio-demographics, attitudes, behaviors, opinions, skills, preferences and values) of a population without collecting data from all members of the population.
  • Depending on the population and type of information sought, survey questionnaires can be administered in-person or remotely via telephone, mail, online and mobile devices.

Disadvantages

  • Questions asked in surveys tend to be broad in scope.
  • Surveys often do not allow researchers to develop an in-depth understanding of individual circumstances or the local culture that may be the root cause of respondent behavior.
  • Respondents may be reluctant to share sensitive information about themselves and others.
  • Respondents may provide socially desirable responses to the questions asked. That is, they may give answers that they believe the researcher wants to hear or answers that shed the best light on them and others. For example, they may over-report positive behaviors and under-report negative behaviors.
  • A growing problem in survey research is the widespread decline in response rates, or percentage of those selected to participate who chose to do so.

The two most common types of survey questions are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.

Closed-Ended Questions

  • The respondents are given a list of predetermined responses from which to choose their answer.
  • The list of responses should include every possible response and the meaning of the responses should not overlap.
  • An example of a close-ended survey question would be, "Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'I feel good about my work on the job.' Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree?"
  • A Likert scale, which is used in the example above, is a commonly used set of responses for closed-ended questions.
  • Closed-ended questions are usually preferred in survey research because of the ease of counting the frequency of each response.

Open-Ended Questions

  • Survey respondents are asked to answer each question in their own words. An example would be, "In the last 12 months, what was the total income of all members of your household from all sources before taxes and other deductions?" Another would be, "Please tell me why you chose that child care provider?"
  • It is worth noting that a question can be either open-ended or close-ended depending on how it is asked. In the previous example, if the question on household income asked respondents to choose from a given set of income ranges instead, it would be considered close-ended.
  • Responses are usually categorized into a smaller list of responses that can be counted for statistical analysis.

A well designed questionnaire is more than a collection of questions on one or more topics. When designing a questionnaire, researchers must consider a number of factors that can affect participation and the responses given by survey participants. Some of the things researchers must consider to help ensure high rates of participation and accurate survey responses include:

  • Sensitive questions, such as questions about income, drug use, or sexual activity, should generally be placed near the end of the survey. This allows a level of trust or psychological comfort to be established with the respondent before asking questions that might be embarrassing or more personal.
  • Researchers also recommend putting routine questions, such as age, gender, and marital status, at the end of the questionnaire.
  • Questions that are more central to the research topic or question and that may serve to engage the respondent should be asked early. For example, a survey on children's early development that is administered to parents should ask questions that are specific to their children in the beginning or near the beginning of the survey.
  • Double-barreled questions, which ask two questions in one, should never be used in a survey. An example of a double-barreled question is, "Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'I feel good about my work on the job, and I get along well with others at work.'" This question is problematic because survey respondents are asked to give one response for their feelings about two conditions of their job.
  • Researchers should avoid or limit the use of professional jargon or highly specialized terms, especially in surveys of the general population.
  • Question and response option text should use words that are at the appropriate reading level for research participants.
  • The use of complex sentence structures should be avoided.
  • Researchers should avoid using emotionally loaded or biased words and phrases.
  • The length of a questionnaire is always a consideration. There is a tendency to try and ask too many questions and cover too many topics. The questionnaire should be kept to a reasonable length and only include questions that are central to the research question(s). The length should be appropriate to the mode of administration. For example, in general, online surveys are shorter than surveys administered in-person.

Questionnaires and the procedures that will be used to administer them should be pretested (or field tested) before they are used in a main study. The goal of the pretest is to identify any problems with how questions are asked, whether they are understood by individuals similar to those who will participate in the main study, and whether response options in close-ended questions are adequate. For example, a parent questionnaire that will be used in a large study of preschool-age children may be administered first to a small (often non-random) sample of parents in order to identify any problems with how questions are asked and understood and whether the response options that are offered to parents are adequate.

Based on the findings of the pretest, additions or modifications to questionnaire items and administration procedures are made prior to their use in the main study.

See the following for more information about questionnaire design:

  • A Brief Guide to Questionnaire Development  (PDF)
  • Survey Design

Surveys can be administered in four ways: through the mail, by telephone, in-person or online. When deciding which of these approaches to use, researchers consider: the cost of contacting the study participant and of data collection, the literacy level of participants, response rate requirements, respondent burden and convenience, the complexity of the information that is being sought and the mix of open-ended and close-ended questions.

Some of the main advantages and disadvantages of the different modes of administration are summarized below.

Mail Surveys

  • Advantages: Low cost; respondents may be more willing to share information and to answer sensitive questions; respondent convenience, can respond on their own schedule
  • Disadvantages: Generally lower response rates; only reaches potential respondents who are associated with a known address; not appropriate for low literacy audiences; no interviewer, so responses cannot be probed for more detail or clarification; participants' specific concerns and questions about the survey and its purpose cannot be addressed

Telephone Surveys

  • Advantages: Higher response rates; responses can be gathered more quickly; responses can be probed; participants' concerns and questions can be addressed immediately
  • Disadvantages: More expensive than mail surveys; depending on how telephone numbers are identified, some groups of potential respondents may not be reached; use of open-ended questions is limited given limits on survey length

In-Person Surveys

  • Advantages: Highest response rates; better suited to collecting complex information; more opportunities to use open-ended questions and to probe respondent answers; interviewer can immediately address any concerns participant has about the survey and answer their questions
  • Disadvantages: Very expensive; time-consuming; respondents may be reluctant to share personal or sensitive information when face-to-face with an interviewer

Online Surveys

  • Advantages: Very low cost; responses can be gathered quickly; respondents may be more willing to share information and to answer sensitive questions; questionnaires are programmed, which allows for more complex surveys that follow skip patterns based on previous responses; respondent convenience, can respond on their own schedule
  • Disadvantages: Potentially lower response rates; limited use of open-ended questions; not possible to probe respondents' answers or to address their concerns about participation

Increasingly, researchers are using a mix of these methods of administration. Mixed-mode or multi-mode surveys use two or more data collection modes in order to increase survey response. Participants are given the option of choosing the mode that they prefer, rather than this being dictated by the research team. For example, the  Head Start Family and Child Experience Survey (2014-2015)  offers teachers the option of completing the study's teacher survey online or using a paper questionnaire. Parents can complete the parent survey online or by phone.

See the following for additional information about survey administration:

  • Four Survey Methodologies: A Comparison of Pros and Cons  (PDF)
  • Collecting Survey Data
  • Improving Response to Web and Mixed-Mode Surveys

In child care and early education research as well as research in other areas, it is often not feasible to survey all members of the population of interest. Therefore, a sample of the members of the population would be selected to represent the total population.

A primary strength of sampling is that estimates of a population's characteristics can be obtained by surveying a small proportion of the population. For example, it would not be feasible to interview all parents of preschool-age children in the U.S. in order to obtain information about their choices of child care and the reasons why they chose certain types of care as opposed to others. Thus, a sample of preschoolers' parents would be selected and interviewed, and the data they provide would be used to estimate the types of child care parents as a whole choose and their reasons for choosing these programs. There are two broad types of sampling:

  • Nonprobability sampling : The selection of participants from a population is not determined by chance. Each member of the population does not have a known or given chance of being selected into the sample. Findings from nonprobability (nonrandom) samples cannot be generalized to the population of interest. Consequently, it is problematic to make inferences about the population. Common nonprobability sampling techniques include convenience sampling, snowball sampling, quota sampling and purposive sampling.

Probability sampling : The selection of participants from the population is determined by chance and with each individual having a known, non-zero probability of selection. It provides accurate descriptions of the population and therefore good generalizability. In survey research, it is the preferred sampling method.

Three forms of probability sampling are described here:

  • Simple Random Sampling This is the most basic form of sampling. Every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. This sampling process is similar to a lottery: the entire population of interest could be selected for the survey, but only a few are chosen at random. For example, researchers may use random-digit dialing to perform simple random sampling for telephone surveys. In this procedure, telephone numbers are generated by a computer at random and called to identify individuals to participate in the survey.
  • Stratified Sampling Stratified sampling is used when researchers want to ensure representation across groups, or strata, in the population. The researchers will first divide the population into groups based on characteristics such as race/ethnicity, and then draw a random sample from each group. The groups must be mutually exclusive and cover the population. Stratified sampling provides greater precision than a simple random sample of the same size.
  • Cluster Sampling Cluster sampling is generally used to control costs and when it is geographically impossible to undertake a simple random sample. For example, in a household survey with face-to-face interviews, it is difficult and expensive to survey households across the nation using a simple random sample design. Instead, researchers will randomly select geographic areas (for example, counties), then randomly select households within these areas. This creates a cluster sample, in which respondents are clustered together geographically.

Survey research studies often use a combination of these probability methods to select their samples.  Multistage sampling  is a probability sampling technique where sampling is carried out in several stages. It is often used to select samples when a single frame is not available to select members for a study sample. For example, there is no single list of all children enrolled in public school kindergartens across the U.S. Therefore, researchers who need a sample of kindergarten children will first select a sample of schools with kindergarten programs from a school frame (e.g., National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data) (Stage 1). Lists of all kindergarten classrooms in selected schools are developed and a sample of classrooms selected in each of the sampled schools (Stage 2). Finally, lists of children in the sampled classrooms are compiled and a sample of children is selected from each of the classroom lists (Stage 3). Many of the national surveys of child care and early education (e.g., the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort) use a multistage approach.

Multistage, cluster and stratified sampling require that certain adjustments be made during the statistical analysis. Sampling or analysis weights are often used to account for differences in the probability of selection into the sample as well as for other factors (e.g., sampling frame, undercoverage, and nonresponse). Standard errors are calculated using methodologies that are different from those used for a simple random sample. Information on these adjustments is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics through its  Distance Learning Dataset Training System .

See the following for additional information about the different types of sampling approaches and their use:

  • National Center for Education Statistics Distance Learning Dataset Training System: Analyzing NCES Complex Survey Data
  • Sampling in Developmental Science: Situations, Shortcomings, Solutions, and Standards
  • Nonprobability Sampling
  • The Future of Survey Sampling
  • Sampling Methods (StatPac)

Estimates of the characteristics of a population using survey data are subject to two basic sources of error: sampling error and nonsampling error. The extent to which estimates of the population mean, proportion and other population values differ from the true values of these is affected by these errors.

  • Sampling error  is the error that occurs because all members of the population are not sampled and measured. The value of a statistic (e.g., mean or percentage) that is calculated from different samples that are drawn from the same population will not always be the same. For example, if several different samples of 5,000 people are drawn at random from the U.S. population, the average income of the 5,000 people in those samples will differ. (In one sample, Bill Gates may have been selected at random from the population, which would lead to a very high mean income for that sample. Researchers use a statistic called the standard error to measure the extent to which estimated statistics (percentages, means, and coefficients) vary from what would be found in other samples. The smaller the standard error, the more precise are the estimates from the sample. Generally, standard errors and sample size are negatively related, that is, larger samples have smaller standard errors.
  • Nonsampling error  includes all errors that can affect the accuracy of research findings other than errors associated with selecting the sample (sampling error). They can occur in any phase of a research study (planning and design, data collection, or data processing). They include errors that occur due to coverage error (when units in the target population are missing from the sampling frame), nonresponse to surveys (nonresponse error), measurement errors due to interviewer or respondent behavior, errors introduced by how survey questions were worded or by how data were collected (e.g., in-person interview, online survey), and processing error (e.g., errors made during data entry or when coding open-ended survey responses). While sampling error is limited to sample surveys, nonsampling error can occur in all surveys.

Measurement Error

Measurement error  is the difference between the value measured in a survey or on a test and the true value in the population. Some factors that contribute to measurement error include the environment in which a survey or test is administered (e.g., administering a math test in a noisy classroom could lead children to do poorly even though they understand the material), poor measurement tools (e.g., using a tape measure that is only marked in feet to measure children's height would lead to inaccurate measurement), rater or interviewer effects (e.g., survey staff who deviate from the research protocol).

Measurement error falls into two broad categories: systematic error and random error. Systematic error is the more serious of the two.

Occurs when the survey responses are systematically different from the target population responses. It is caused by factors that systematically affect the measurement of a variable across the sample.

For example, if a researcher only surveyed individuals who answered their phone between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday, the survey results would be biased toward individuals who are available to answer the phone during those hours (e.g., individuals who are not in the labor force or who work outside of the traditional Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm schedule).

  • Nonobservational error -- Error introduced when individuals in the target population are systematically excluded from the sample, such as in the example above.
  • Observational error -- Error introduced when respondents systematically answer survey question incorrectly. For example, surveys that ask respondents how much they weigh may underestimate the population's weight because some respondents are likely to report their weight as less than it actually is.
  • Systematic errors tend to have an effect on responses and scores that is consistently in one direction (positive or negative). As a result, they contribute to bias in estimates.

Random error

  • Random error is an expected part of survey research, and statistical techniques are designed to account for this sort of measurement error. It is caused by factors that randomly affect measurement of the variable across the sample.

Random error occurs because of natural and uncontrollable variations in the survey process, i.e., the mood of the respondent, lack of precision in measures used, and the particular measures/instruments (e.g., inaccuracy in scales used to measure children's weight).

For example, a researcher may administer a survey about marital happiness. However, some respondents may have had a fight with their spouse the evening prior to the survey, while other respondents' spouses may have cooked the respondent's favorite meal. The survey responses will be affected by the random day on which the respondents were chosen to participate in the study. With random error, the positive and negative influences on the survey measures are expected to balance out.

  • Unlike systematic errors, random errors do not have a consistent positive or negative effect on measurement. Instead, across the sample the effects are both positive and negative. Such errors are often considered noise and add variability, though not bias, to the data.

See the following for additional information about the different types and sources of errors:

  • Nonresponse Error, Measurement Error and Mode of Data Collection
  • Total Survey Error: Design, Implementation, and Evaluation
  • Data Accuracy

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9 Survey research

Survey research is a research method involving the use of standardised questionnaires or interviews to collect data about people and their preferences, thoughts, and behaviours in a systematic manner. Although census surveys were conducted as early as Ancient Egypt, survey as a formal research method was pioneered in the 1930–40s by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld to examine the effects of the radio on political opinion formation of the United States. This method has since become a very popular method for quantitative research in the social sciences.

The survey method can be used for descriptive, exploratory, or explanatory research. This method is best suited for studies that have individual people as the unit of analysis. Although other units of analysis, such as groups, organisations or dyads—pairs of organisations, such as buyers and sellers—are also studied using surveys, such studies often use a specific person from each unit as a ‘key informant’ or a ‘proxy’ for that unit. Consequently, such surveys may be subject to respondent bias if the chosen informant does not have adequate knowledge or has a biased opinion about the phenomenon of interest. For instance, Chief Executive Officers may not adequately know employees’ perceptions or teamwork in their own companies, and may therefore be the wrong informant for studies of team dynamics or employee self-esteem.

Survey research has several inherent strengths compared to other research methods. First, surveys are an excellent vehicle for measuring a wide variety of unobservable data, such as people’s preferences (e.g., political orientation), traits (e.g., self-esteem), attitudes (e.g., toward immigrants), beliefs (e.g., about a new law), behaviours (e.g., smoking or drinking habits), or factual information (e.g., income). Second, survey research is also ideally suited for remotely collecting data about a population that is too large to observe directly. A large area—such as an entire country—can be covered by postal, email, or telephone surveys using meticulous sampling to ensure that the population is adequately represented in a small sample. Third, due to their unobtrusive nature and the ability to respond at one’s convenience, questionnaire surveys are preferred by some respondents. Fourth, interviews may be the only way of reaching certain population groups such as the homeless or illegal immigrants for which there is no sampling frame available. Fifth, large sample surveys may allow detection of small effects even while analysing multiple variables, and depending on the survey design, may also allow comparative analysis of population subgroups (i.e., within-group and between-group analysis). Sixth, survey research is more economical in terms of researcher time, effort and cost than other methods such as experimental research and case research. At the same time, survey research also has some unique disadvantages. It is subject to a large number of biases such as non-response bias, sampling bias, social desirability bias, and recall bias, as discussed at the end of this chapter.

Depending on how the data is collected, survey research can be divided into two broad categories: questionnaire surveys (which may be postal, group-administered, or online surveys), and interview surveys (which may be personal, telephone, or focus group interviews). Questionnaires are instruments that are completed in writing by respondents, while interviews are completed by the interviewer based on verbal responses provided by respondents. As discussed below, each type has its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of their costs, coverage of the target population, and researcher’s flexibility in asking questions.

Questionnaire surveys

Invented by Sir Francis Galton, a questionnaire is a research instrument consisting of a set of questions (items) intended to capture responses from respondents in a standardised manner. Questions may be unstructured or structured. Unstructured questions ask respondents to provide a response in their own words, while structured questions ask respondents to select an answer from a given set of choices. Subjects’ responses to individual questions (items) on a structured questionnaire may be aggregated into a composite scale or index for statistical analysis. Questions should be designed in such a way that respondents are able to read, understand, and respond to them in a meaningful way, and hence the survey method may not be appropriate or practical for certain demographic groups such as children or the illiterate.

Most questionnaire surveys tend to be self-administered postal surveys , where the same questionnaire is posted to a large number of people, and willing respondents can complete the survey at their convenience and return it in prepaid envelopes. Postal surveys are advantageous in that they are unobtrusive and inexpensive to administer, since bulk postage is cheap in most countries. However, response rates from postal surveys tend to be quite low since most people ignore survey requests. There may also be long delays (several months) in respondents’ completing and returning the survey, or they may even simply lose it. Hence, the researcher must continuously monitor responses as they are being returned, track and send non-respondents repeated reminders (two or three reminders at intervals of one to one and a half months is ideal). Questionnaire surveys are also not well-suited for issues that require clarification on the part of the respondent or those that require detailed written responses. Longitudinal designs can be used to survey the same set of respondents at different times, but response rates tend to fall precipitously from one survey to the next.

A second type of survey is a group-administered questionnaire . A sample of respondents is brought together at a common place and time, and each respondent is asked to complete the survey questionnaire while in that room. Respondents enter their responses independently without interacting with one another. This format is convenient for the researcher, and a high response rate is assured. If respondents do not understand any specific question, they can ask for clarification. In many organisations, it is relatively easy to assemble a group of employees in a conference room or lunch room, especially if the survey is approved by corporate executives.

A more recent type of questionnaire survey is an online or web survey. These surveys are administered over the Internet using interactive forms. Respondents may receive an email request for participation in the survey with a link to a website where the survey may be completed. Alternatively, the survey may be embedded into an email, and can be completed and returned via email. These surveys are very inexpensive to administer, results are instantly recorded in an online database, and the survey can be easily modified if needed. However, if the survey website is not password-protected or designed to prevent multiple submissions, the responses can be easily compromised. Furthermore, sampling bias may be a significant issue since the survey cannot reach people who do not have computer or Internet access, such as many of the poor, senior, and minority groups, and the respondent sample is skewed toward a younger demographic who are online much of the time and have the time and ability to complete such surveys. Computing the response rate may be problematic if the survey link is posted on LISTSERVs or bulletin boards instead of being emailed directly to targeted respondents. For these reasons, many researchers prefer dual-media surveys (e.g., postal survey and online survey), allowing respondents to select their preferred method of response.

Constructing a survey questionnaire is an art. Numerous decisions must be made about the content of questions, their wording, format, and sequencing, all of which can have important consequences for the survey responses.

Response formats. Survey questions may be structured or unstructured. Responses to structured questions are captured using one of the following response formats:

Dichotomous response , where respondents are asked to select one of two possible choices, such as true/false, yes/no, or agree/disagree. An example of such a question is: Do you think that the death penalty is justified under some circumstances? (circle one): yes / no.

Nominal response , where respondents are presented with more than two unordered options, such as: What is your industry of employment?: manufacturing / consumer services / retail / education / healthcare / tourism and hospitality / other.

Ordinal response , where respondents have more than two ordered options, such as: What is your highest level of education?: high school / bachelor’s degree / postgraduate degree.

Interval-level response , where respondents are presented with a 5-point or 7-point Likert scale, semantic differential scale, or Guttman scale. Each of these scale types were discussed in a previous chapter.

Continuous response , where respondents enter a continuous (ratio-scaled) value with a meaningful zero point, such as their age or tenure in a firm. These responses generally tend to be of the fill-in-the blanks type.

Question content and wording. Responses obtained in survey research are very sensitive to the types of questions asked. Poorly framed or ambiguous questions will likely result in meaningless responses with very little value. Dillman (1978) [1] recommends several rules for creating good survey questions. Every single question in a survey should be carefully scrutinised for the following issues:

Is the question clear and understandable ?: Survey questions should be stated in very simple language, preferably in active voice, and without complicated words or jargon that may not be understood by a typical respondent. All questions in the questionnaire should be worded in a similar manner to make it easy for respondents to read and understand them. The only exception is if your survey is targeted at a specialised group of respondents, such as doctors, lawyers and researchers, who use such jargon in their everyday environment. Is the question worded in a negative manner ?: Negatively worded questions such as ‘Should your local government not raise taxes?’ tend to confuse many respondents and lead to inaccurate responses. Double-negatives should be avoided when designing survey questions.

Is the question ambiguous ?: Survey questions should not use words or expressions that may be interpreted differently by different respondents (e.g., words like ‘any’ or ‘just’). For instance, if you ask a respondent, ‘What is your annual income?’, it is unclear whether you are referring to salary/wages, or also dividend, rental, and other income, whether you are referring to personal income, family income (including spouse’s wages), or personal and business income. Different interpretation by different respondents will lead to incomparable responses that cannot be interpreted correctly.

Does the question have biased or value-laden words ?: Bias refers to any property of a question that encourages subjects to answer in a certain way. Kenneth Rasinky (1989) [2] examined several studies on people’s attitude toward government spending, and observed that respondents tend to indicate stronger support for ‘assistance to the poor’ and less for ‘welfare’, even though both terms had the same meaning. In this study, more support was also observed for ‘halting rising crime rate’ and less for ‘law enforcement’, more for ‘solving problems of big cities’ and less for ‘assistance to big cities’, and more for ‘dealing with drug addiction’ and less for ‘drug rehabilitation’. A biased language or tone tends to skew observed responses. It is often difficult to anticipate in advance the biasing wording, but to the greatest extent possible, survey questions should be carefully scrutinised to avoid biased language.

Is the question double-barrelled ?: Double-barrelled questions are those that can have multiple answers. For example, ‘Are you satisfied with the hardware and software provided for your work?’. In this example, how should a respondent answer if they are satisfied with the hardware, but not with the software, or vice versa? It is always advisable to separate double-barrelled questions into separate questions: ‘Are you satisfied with the hardware provided for your work?’, and ’Are you satisfied with the software provided for your work?’. Another example: ‘Does your family favour public television?’. Some people may favour public TV for themselves, but favour certain cable TV programs such as Sesame Street for their children.

Is the question too general ?: Sometimes, questions that are too general may not accurately convey respondents’ perceptions. If you asked someone how they liked a certain book and provided a response scale ranging from ‘not at all’ to ‘extremely well’, if that person selected ‘extremely well’, what do they mean? Instead, ask more specific behavioural questions, such as, ‘Will you recommend this book to others, or do you plan to read other books by the same author?’. Likewise, instead of asking, ‘How big is your firm?’ (which may be interpreted differently by respondents), ask, ‘How many people work for your firm?’, and/or ‘What is the annual revenue of your firm?’, which are both measures of firm size.

Is the question too detailed ?: Avoid unnecessarily detailed questions that serve no specific research purpose. For instance, do you need the age of each child in a household, or is just the number of children in the household acceptable? However, if unsure, it is better to err on the side of details than generality.

Is the question presumptuous ?: If you ask, ‘What do you see as the benefits of a tax cut?’, you are presuming that the respondent sees the tax cut as beneficial. Many people may not view tax cuts as being beneficial, because tax cuts generally lead to lesser funding for public schools, larger class sizes, and fewer public services such as police, ambulance, and fire services. Avoid questions with built-in presumptions.

Is the question imaginary ?: A popular question in many television game shows is, ‘If you win a million dollars on this show, how will you spend it?’. Most respondents have never been faced with such an amount of money before and have never thought about it—they may not even know that after taxes, they will get only about $640,000 or so in the United States, and in many cases, that amount is spread over a 20-year period—and so their answers tend to be quite random, such as take a tour around the world, buy a restaurant or bar, spend on education, save for retirement, help parents or children, or have a lavish wedding. Imaginary questions have imaginary answers, which cannot be used for making scientific inferences.

Do respondents have the information needed to correctly answer the question ?: Oftentimes, we assume that subjects have the necessary information to answer a question, when in reality, they do not. Even if a response is obtained, these responses tend to be inaccurate given the subjects’ lack of knowledge about the question being asked. For instance, we should not ask the CEO of a company about day-to-day operational details that they may not be aware of, or ask teachers about how much their students are learning, or ask high-schoolers, ‘Do you think the US Government acted appropriately in the Bay of Pigs crisis?’.

Question sequencing. In general, questions should flow logically from one to the next. To achieve the best response rates, questions should flow from the least sensitive to the most sensitive, from the factual and behavioural to the attitudinal, and from the more general to the more specific. Some general rules for question sequencing:

Start with easy non-threatening questions that can be easily recalled. Good options are demographics (age, gender, education level) for individual-level surveys and firmographics (employee count, annual revenues, industry) for firm-level surveys.

Never start with an open ended question.

If following a historical sequence of events, follow a chronological order from earliest to latest.

Ask about one topic at a time. When switching topics, use a transition, such as, ‘The next section examines your opinions about…’

Use filter or contingency questions as needed, such as, ‘If you answered “yes” to question 5, please proceed to Section 2. If you answered “no” go to Section 3′.

Other golden rules . Do unto your respondents what you would have them do unto you. Be attentive and appreciative of respondents’ time, attention, trust, and confidentiality of personal information. Always practice the following strategies for all survey research:

People’s time is valuable. Be respectful of their time. Keep your survey as short as possible and limit it to what is absolutely necessary. Respondents do not like spending more than 10-15 minutes on any survey, no matter how important it is. Longer surveys tend to dramatically lower response rates.

Always assure respondents about the confidentiality of their responses, and how you will use their data (e.g., for academic research) and how the results will be reported (usually, in the aggregate).

For organisational surveys, assure respondents that you will send them a copy of the final results, and make sure that you follow up with your promise.

Thank your respondents for their participation in your study.

Finally, always pretest your questionnaire, at least using a convenience sample, before administering it to respondents in a field setting. Such pretesting may uncover ambiguity, lack of clarity, or biases in question wording, which should be eliminated before administering to the intended sample.

Interview survey

Interviews are a more personalised data collection method than questionnaires, and are conducted by trained interviewers using the same research protocol as questionnaire surveys (i.e., a standardised set of questions). However, unlike a questionnaire, the interview script may contain special instructions for the interviewer that are not seen by respondents, and may include space for the interviewer to record personal observations and comments. In addition, unlike postal surveys, the interviewer has the opportunity to clarify any issues raised by the respondent or ask probing or follow-up questions. However, interviews are time-consuming and resource-intensive. Interviewers need special interviewing skills as they are considered to be part of the measurement instrument, and must proactively strive not to artificially bias the observed responses.

The most typical form of interview is a personal or face-to-face interview , where the interviewer works directly with the respondent to ask questions and record their responses. Personal interviews may be conducted at the respondent’s home or office location. This approach may even be favoured by some respondents, while others may feel uncomfortable allowing a stranger into their homes. However, skilled interviewers can persuade respondents to co-operate, dramatically improving response rates.

A variation of the personal interview is a group interview, also called a focus group . In this technique, a small group of respondents (usually 6–10 respondents) are interviewed together in a common location. The interviewer is essentially a facilitator whose job is to lead the discussion, and ensure that every person has an opportunity to respond. Focus groups allow deeper examination of complex issues than other forms of survey research, because when people hear others talk, it often triggers responses or ideas that they did not think about before. However, focus group discussion may be dominated by a dominant personality, and some individuals may be reluctant to voice their opinions in front of their peers or superiors, especially while dealing with a sensitive issue such as employee underperformance or office politics. Because of their small sample size, focus groups are usually used for exploratory research rather than descriptive or explanatory research.

A third type of interview survey is a telephone interview . In this technique, interviewers contact potential respondents over the phone, typically based on a random selection of people from a telephone directory, to ask a standard set of survey questions. A more recent and technologically advanced approach is computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). This is increasing being used by academic, government, and commercial survey researchers. Here the interviewer is a telephone operator who is guided through the interview process by a computer program displaying instructions and questions to be asked. The system also selects respondents randomly using a random digit dialling technique, and records responses using voice capture technology. Once respondents are on the phone, higher response rates can be obtained. This technique is not ideal for rural areas where telephone density is low, and also cannot be used for communicating non-audio information such as graphics or product demonstrations.

Role of interviewer. The interviewer has a complex and multi-faceted role in the interview process, which includes the following tasks:

Prepare for the interview: Since the interviewer is in the forefront of the data collection effort, the quality of data collected depends heavily on how well the interviewer is trained to do the job. The interviewer must be trained in the interview process and the survey method, and also be familiar with the purpose of the study, how responses will be stored and used, and sources of interviewer bias. They should also rehearse and time the interview prior to the formal study.

Locate and enlist the co-operation of respondents: Particularly in personal, in-home surveys, the interviewer must locate specific addresses, and work around respondents’ schedules at sometimes undesirable times such as during weekends. They should also be like a salesperson, selling the idea of participating in the study.

Motivate respondents: Respondents often feed off the motivation of the interviewer. If the interviewer is disinterested or inattentive, respondents will not be motivated to provide useful or informative responses either. The interviewer must demonstrate enthusiasm about the study, communicate the importance of the research to respondents, and be attentive to respondents’ needs throughout the interview.

Clarify any confusion or concerns: Interviewers must be able to think on their feet and address unanticipated concerns or objections raised by respondents to the respondents’ satisfaction. Additionally, they should ask probing questions as necessary even if such questions are not in the script.

Observe quality of response: The interviewer is in the best position to judge the quality of information collected, and may supplement responses obtained using personal observations of gestures or body language as appropriate.

Conducting the interview. Before the interview, the interviewer should prepare a kit to carry to the interview session, consisting of a cover letter from the principal investigator or sponsor, adequate copies of the survey instrument, photo identification, and a telephone number for respondents to call to verify the interviewer’s authenticity. The interviewer should also try to call respondents ahead of time to set up an appointment if possible. To start the interview, they should speak in an imperative and confident tone, such as, ‘I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to interview you for a very important study’, instead of, ‘May I come in to do an interview?’. They should introduce themself, present personal credentials, explain the purpose of the study in one to two sentences, and assure respondents that their participation is voluntary, and their comments are confidential, all in less than a minute. No big words or jargon should be used, and no details should be provided unless specifically requested. If the interviewer wishes to record the interview, they should ask for respondents’ explicit permission before doing so. Even if the interview is recorded, the interviewer must take notes on key issues, probes, or verbatim phrases

During the interview, the interviewer should follow the questionnaire script and ask questions exactly as written, and not change the words to make the question sound friendlier. They should also not change the order of questions or skip any question that may have been answered earlier. Any issues with the questions should be discussed during rehearsal prior to the actual interview sessions. The interviewer should not finish the respondent’s sentences. If the respondent gives a brief cursory answer, the interviewer should probe the respondent to elicit a more thoughtful, thorough response. Some useful probing techniques are:

The silent probe: Just pausing and waiting without going into the next question may suggest to respondents that the interviewer is waiting for more detailed response.

Overt encouragement: An occasional ‘uh-huh’ or ‘okay’ may encourage the respondent to go into greater details. However, the interviewer must not express approval or disapproval of what the respondent says.

Ask for elaboration: Such as, ‘Can you elaborate on that?’ or ‘A minute ago, you were talking about an experience you had in high school. Can you tell me more about that?’.

Reflection: The interviewer can try the psychotherapist’s trick of repeating what the respondent said. For instance, ‘What I’m hearing is that you found that experience very traumatic’ and then pause and wait for the respondent to elaborate.

After the interview is completed, the interviewer should thank respondents for their time, tell them when to expect the results, and not leave hastily. Immediately after leaving, they should write down any notes or key observations that may help interpret the respondent’s comments better.

Biases in survey research

Despite all of its strengths and advantages, survey research is often tainted with systematic biases that may invalidate some of the inferences derived from such surveys. Five such biases are the non-response bias, sampling bias, social desirability bias, recall bias, and common method bias.

Non-response bias. Survey research is generally notorious for its low response rates. A response rate of 15-20 per cent is typical in a postal survey, even after two or three reminders. If the majority of the targeted respondents fail to respond to a survey, this may indicate a systematic reason for the low response rate, which may in turn raise questions about the validity of the study’s results. For instance, dissatisfied customers tend to be more vocal about their experience than satisfied customers, and are therefore more likely to respond to questionnaire surveys or interview requests than satisfied customers. Hence, any respondent sample is likely to have a higher proportion of dissatisfied customers than the underlying population from which it is drawn. In this instance, not only will the results lack generalisability, but the observed outcomes may also be an artefact of the biased sample. Several strategies may be employed to improve response rates:

Advance notification: Sending a short letter to the targeted respondents soliciting their participation in an upcoming survey can prepare them in advance and improve their propensity to respond. The letter should state the purpose and importance of the study, mode of data collection (e.g., via a phone call, a survey form in the mail, etc.), and appreciation for their co-operation. A variation of this technique may be to ask the respondent to return a prepaid postcard indicating whether or not they are willing to participate in the study.

Relevance of content: People are more likely to respond to surveys examining issues of relevance or importance to them.

Respondent-friendly questionnaire: Shorter survey questionnaires tend to elicit higher response rates than longer questionnaires. Furthermore, questions that are clear, non-offensive, and easy to respond tend to attract higher response rates.

Endorsement: For organisational surveys, it helps to gain endorsement from a senior executive attesting to the importance of the study to the organisation. Such endorsement can be in the form of a cover letter or a letter of introduction, which can improve the researcher’s credibility in the eyes of the respondents.

Follow-up requests: Multiple follow-up requests may coax some non-respondents to respond, even if their responses are late.

Interviewer training: Response rates for interviews can be improved with skilled interviewers trained in how to request interviews, use computerised dialling techniques to identify potential respondents, and schedule call-backs for respondents who could not be reached.

Incentives : Incentives in the form of cash or gift cards, giveaways such as pens or stress balls, entry into a lottery, draw or contest, discount coupons, promise of contribution to charity, and so forth may increase response rates.

Non-monetary incentives: Businesses, in particular, are more prone to respond to non-monetary incentives than financial incentives. An example of such a non-monetary incentive is a benchmarking report comparing the business’s individual response against the aggregate of all responses to a survey.

Confidentiality and privacy: Finally, assurances that respondents’ private data or responses will not fall into the hands of any third party may help improve response rates

Sampling bias. Telephone surveys conducted by calling a random sample of publicly available telephone numbers will systematically exclude people with unlisted telephone numbers, mobile phone numbers, and people who are unable to answer the phone when the survey is being conducted—for instance, if they are at work—and will include a disproportionate number of respondents who have landline telephone services with listed phone numbers and people who are home during the day, such as the unemployed, the disabled, and the elderly. Likewise, online surveys tend to include a disproportionate number of students and younger people who are constantly on the Internet, and systematically exclude people with limited or no access to computers or the Internet, such as the poor and the elderly. Similarly, questionnaire surveys tend to exclude children and the illiterate, who are unable to read, understand, or meaningfully respond to the questionnaire. A different kind of sampling bias relates to sampling the wrong population, such as asking teachers (or parents) about their students’ (or children’s) academic learning, or asking CEOs about operational details in their company. Such biases make the respondent sample unrepresentative of the intended population and hurt generalisability claims about inferences drawn from the biased sample.

Social desirability bias . Many respondents tend to avoid negative opinions or embarrassing comments about themselves, their employers, family, or friends. With negative questions such as, ‘Do you think that your project team is dysfunctional?’, ‘Is there a lot of office politics in your workplace?’, ‘Or have you ever illegally downloaded music files from the Internet?’, the researcher may not get truthful responses. This tendency among respondents to ‘spin the truth’ in order to portray themselves in a socially desirable manner is called the ‘social desirability bias’, which hurts the validity of responses obtained from survey research. There is practically no way of overcoming the social desirability bias in a questionnaire survey, but in an interview setting, an astute interviewer may be able to spot inconsistent answers and ask probing questions or use personal observations to supplement respondents’ comments.

Recall bias. Responses to survey questions often depend on subjects’ motivation, memory, and ability to respond. Particularly when dealing with events that happened in the distant past, respondents may not adequately remember their own motivations or behaviours, or perhaps their memory of such events may have evolved with time and no longer be retrievable. For instance, if a respondent is asked to describe his/her utilisation of computer technology one year ago, or even memorable childhood events like birthdays, their response may not be accurate due to difficulties with recall. One possible way of overcoming the recall bias is by anchoring the respondent’s memory in specific events as they happened, rather than asking them to recall their perceptions and motivations from memory.

Common method bias. Common method bias refers to the amount of spurious covariance shared between independent and dependent variables that are measured at the same point in time, such as in a cross-sectional survey, using the same instrument, such as a questionnaire. In such cases, the phenomenon under investigation may not be adequately separated from measurement artefacts. Standard statistical tests are available to test for common method bias, such as Harmon’s single-factor test (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee & Podsakoff, 2003), [3] Lindell and Whitney’s (2001) [4] market variable technique, and so forth. This bias can potentially be avoided if the independent and dependent variables are measured at different points in time using a longitudinal survey design, or if these variables are measured using different methods, such as computerised recording of dependent variable versus questionnaire-based self-rating of independent variables.

  • Dillman, D. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method . New York: Wiley. ↵
  • Rasikski, K. (1989). The effect of question wording on public support for government spending. Public Opinion Quarterly , 53(3), 388–394. ↵
  • Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J.-Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology , 88(5), 879–903. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.88.5.879. ↵
  • Lindell, M. K., & Whitney, D. J. (2001). Accounting for common method variance in cross-sectional research designs. Journal of Applied Psychology , 86(1), 114–121. ↵

Social Science Research: Principles, Methods and Practices (Revised edition) Copyright © 2019 by Anol Bhattacherjee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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8.2: Pros and Cons of Survey Research

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Learning Objectives

  • Identify and explain the strengths of survey research.
  • Identify and explain the weaknesses of survey research.

Survey research, as with all methods of data collection, comes with both strengths and weaknesses. We’ll examine both in this section.

Strengths of Survey Method

Researchers employing survey methods to collect data enjoy a number of benefits. First, surveys are an excellent way to gather lots of information from many people. In my own study of older people’s experiences in the workplace, I was able to mail a written questionnaire to around 500 people who lived throughout the state of Maine at a cost of just over $1,000. This cost included printing copies of my seven-page survey, printing a cover letter, addressing and stuffing envelopes, mailing the survey, and buying return postage for the survey. I realize that $1,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But just imagine what it might have cost to visit each of those people individually to interview them in person. Consider the cost of gas to drive around the state, other travel costs, such as meals and lodging while on the road, and the cost of time to drive to and talk with each person individually. We could double, triple, or even quadruple our costs pretty quickly by opting for an in-person method of data collection over a mailed survey. Thus surveys are relatively cost effective .

Related to the benefit of cost effectiveness is a survey’s potential for generalizability . Because surveys allow researchers to collect data from very large samples for a relatively low cost, survey methods lend themselves to probability sampling techniques, which we discussed in Chapter 7. Of all the data-collection methods described in this text, survey research is probably the best method to use when one hopes to gain a representative picture of the attitudes and characteristics of a large group.

Survey research also tends to be a reliable method of inquiry. This is because surveys are standardized in that the same questions, phrased in exactly the same way, are posed to participants. Other methods, such as qualitative interviewing, which we’ll learn about in Chapter 9, do not offer the same consistency that a quantitative survey offers. This is not to say that all surveys are always reliable. A poorly phrased question can cause respondents to interpret its meaning differently, which can reduce that question’s reliability. Assuming well-constructed question and questionnaire design, one strength of survey methodology is its potential to produce reliable results.

The versatility of survey research is also an asset. Surveys are used by all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. I repeat, surveys are used by all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. Is there a light bulb switching on in your head? I hope so. The versatility offered by survey research means that understanding how to construct and administer surveys is a useful skill to have for all kinds of jobs. Lawyers might use surveys in their efforts to select juries, social service and other organizations (e.g., churches, clubs, fundraising groups, activist groups) use them to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts, businesses use them to learn how to market their products, governments use them to understand community opinions and needs, and politicians and media outlets use surveys to understand their constituencies.

In sum, the following are benefits of survey research:

  • Cost-effective
  • Generalizable

Weaknesses of Survey Method

As with all methods of data collection, survey research also comes with a few drawbacks. First, while one might argue that surveys are flexible in the sense that we can ask any number of questions on any number of topics in them, the fact that the survey researcher is generally stuck with a single instrument for collecting data (the questionnaire), surveys are in many ways rather inflexible . Let’s say you mail a survey out to 1,000 people and then discover, as responses start coming in, that your phrasing on a particular question seems to be confusing a number of respondents. At this stage, it’s too late for a do-over or to change the question for the respondents who haven’t yet returned their surveys. When conducting in-depth interviews, on the other hand, a researcher can provide respondents further explanation if they’re confused by a question and can tweak their questions as they learn more about how respondents seem to understand them.

Validity can also be a problem with surveys. Survey questions are standardized; thus it can be difficult to ask anything other than very general questions that a broad range of people will understand. Because of this, survey results may not be as valid as results obtained using methods of data collection that allow a researcher to more comprehensively examine whatever topic is being studied. Let’s say, for example, that you want to learn something about voters’ willingness to elect an African American president, as in our opening example in this chapter. General Social Survey respondents were asked, “If your party nominated an African American for president, would you vote for him if he were qualified for the job?” Respondents were then asked to respond either yes or no to the question. But what if someone’s opinion was more complex than could be answered with a simple yes or no? What if, for example, a person was willing to vote for an African American woman but not an African American man?I am not at all suggesting that such a perspective makes any sense, but it is conceivable that an individual might hold such a perspective.

In sum, potential drawbacks to survey research include the following:

  • Inflexibility

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Strengths of survey research include its cost effectiveness, generalizability, reliability, and versatility.
  • Weaknesses of survey research include inflexibility and issues with validity.
  • What are some ways that survey researchers might overcome the weaknesses of this method?
  • Find an article reporting results from survey research (remember how to use Sociological Abstracts?). How do the authors describe the strengths and weaknesses of their study? Are any of the strengths or weaknesses described here mentioned in the article?

survey research design advantages and disadvantages

8.2 Pros and Cons of Survey Research

Learning objectives.

  • Identify and explain the strengths of survey research.
  • Identify and explain the weaknesses of survey research.

Survey research, as with all methods of data collection, comes with both strengths and weaknesses. We’ll examine both in this section.

Strengths of Survey Method

Researchers employing survey methods to collect data enjoy a number of benefits. First, surveys are an excellent way to gather lots of information from many people. In my own study of older people’s experiences in the workplace, I was able to mail a written questionnaire to around 500 people who lived throughout the state of Maine at a cost of just over $1,000. This cost included printing copies of my seven-page survey, printing a cover letter, addressing and stuffing envelopes, mailing the survey, and buying return postage for the survey. I realize that $1,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But just imagine what it might have cost to visit each of those people individually to interview them in person. Consider the cost of gas to drive around the state, other travel costs, such as meals and lodging while on the road, and the cost of time to drive to and talk with each person individually. We could double, triple, or even quadruple our costs pretty quickly by opting for an in-person method of data collection over a mailed survey. Thus surveys are relatively cost effective .

Related to the benefit of cost effectiveness is a survey’s potential for generalizability . Because surveys allow researchers to collect data from very large samples for a relatively low cost, survey methods lend themselves to probability sampling techniques, which we discussed in Chapter 7 "Sampling" . Of all the data-collection methods described in this text, survey research is probably the best method to use when one hopes to gain a representative picture of the attitudes and characteristics of a large group.

Survey research also tends to be a reliable method of inquiry. This is because surveys are standardized The same questions, phrased in the same way, are posed to all participants, consistent. in that the same questions, phrased in exactly the same way, are posed to participants. Other methods, such as qualitative interviewing, which we’ll learn about in Chapter 9 "Interviews: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches" , do not offer the same consistency that a quantitative survey offers. This is not to say that all surveys are always reliable. A poorly phrased question can cause respondents to interpret its meaning differently, which can reduce that question’s reliability. Assuming well-constructed question and questionnaire design, one strength of survey methodology is its potential to produce reliable results.

The versatility A feature of survey research meaning that many different people use surveys for a variety of purposes and in a variety of settings. of survey research is also an asset. Surveys are used by all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. I repeat, surveys are used by all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. Is there a light bulb switching on in your head? I hope so. The versatility offered by survey research means that understanding how to construct and administer surveys is a useful skill to have for all kinds of jobs. Lawyers might use surveys in their efforts to select juries, social service and other organizations (e.g., churches, clubs, fundraising groups, activist groups) use them to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts, businesses use them to learn how to market their products, governments use them to understand community opinions and needs, and politicians and media outlets use surveys to understand their constituencies.

In sum, the following are benefits of survey research:

  • Cost-effective
  • Generalizable

Weaknesses of Survey Method

As with all methods of data collection, survey research also comes with a few drawbacks. First, while one might argue that surveys are flexible in the sense that we can ask any number of questions on any number of topics in them, the fact that the survey researcher is generally stuck with a single instrument for collecting data (the questionnaire), surveys are in many ways rather inflexible . Let’s say you mail a survey out to 1,000 people and then discover, as responses start coming in, that your phrasing on a particular question seems to be confusing a number of respondents. At this stage, it’s too late for a do-over or to change the question for the respondents who haven’t yet returned their surveys. When conducting in-depth interviews, on the other hand, a researcher can provide respondents further explanation if they’re confused by a question and can tweak their questions as they learn more about how respondents seem to understand them.

Validity can also be a problem with surveys. Survey questions are standardized; thus it can be difficult to ask anything other than very general questions that a broad range of people will understand. Because of this, survey results may not be as valid as results obtained using methods of data collection that allow a researcher to more comprehensively examine whatever topic is being studied. Let’s say, for example, that you want to learn something about voters’ willingness to elect an African American president, as in our opening example in this chapter. General Social Survey respondents were asked, “If your party nominated an African American for president, would you vote for him if he were qualified for the job?” Respondents were then asked to respond either yes or no to the question. But what if someone’s opinion was more complex than could be answered with a simple yes or no? What if, for example, a person was willing to vote for an African American woman but not an African American man? I am not at all suggesting that such a perspective makes any sense, but it is conceivable that an individual might hold such a perspective.

In sum, potential drawbacks to survey research include the following:

  • Inflexibility

Key Takeaways

  • Strengths of survey research include its cost effectiveness, generalizability, reliability, and versatility.
  • Weaknesses of survey research include inflexibility and issues with validity.
  • What are some ways that survey researchers might overcome the weaknesses of this method?
  • Find an article reporting results from survey research (remember how to use Sociological Abstracts?). How do the authors describe the strengths and weaknesses of their study? Are any of the strengths or weaknesses described here mentioned in the article?

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2.3 Research Design in Sociology

Learning objective.

  • List the major advantages and disadvantages of surveys, experiments, and observational studies.

We now turn to the major methods that sociologists use to gather the information they analyze in their research. Table 2.2 “Major Sociological Research Methods” summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Table 2.2 Major Sociological Research Methods

Types of Sociological Research

The survey is the most common method by which sociologists gather their data. The Gallup Poll is perhaps the best-known example of a survey and, like all surveys, gathers its data with the help of a questionnaire that is given to a group of respondents. The Gallup Poll is an example of a survey conducted by a private organization, but it typically includes only a small range of variables. It thus provides a good starting point for research but usually does not include enough variables for a full-fledged sociological study. Sociologists often do their own surveys, as does the government and many organizations in addition to Gallup.

A pile of surveys

The survey is the most common research design in sociological research. Respondents either fill out questionnaires themselves or provide verbal answers to interviewers asking them the questions.

The Bees – Surveys to compile – CC BY-NC 2.0.

The General Social Survey, described earlier, is an example of a face-to-face survey, in which interviewers meet with respondents to ask them questions. This type of survey can yield a lot of information, because interviewers typically will spend at least an hour asking their questions, and a high response rate (the percentage of all people in the sample who agree to be interviewed), which is important to be able to generalize the survey’s results to the entire population. On the downside, this type of survey can be very expensive and time-consuming to conduct.

Because of these drawbacks, sociologists and other researchers have turned to telephone surveys. Most Gallup Polls are conducted over the telephone. Computers do random-digit dialing, which results in a random sample of all telephone numbers being selected. Although the response rate and the number of questions asked are both lower than in face-to-face surveys (people can just hang up the phone at the outset or let their answering machine take the call), the ease and low expense of telephone surveys are making them increasingly popular.

Mailed surveys, done by mailing questionnaires to respondents, are still used, but not as often as before. Compared with face-to-face surveys, mailed questionnaires are less expensive and time consuming but have lower response rates, because many people simply throw out the questionnaire along with other junk mail.

Whereas mailed surveys are becoming less popular, surveys done over the Internet are becoming more popular, as they can reach many people at very low expense. A major problem with Web surveys is that their results cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire population, because not everyone has access to the Internet.

Experiments

Experiments are the primary form of research in the natural and physical sciences, but in the social sciences they are for the most part found only in psychology. Some sociologists still use experiments, however, and they remain a powerful tool of social research.

The major advantage of experiments is that the researcher can be fairly sure of a cause-and-effect relationship because of the way the experiment is set up. Although many different experimental designs exist, the typical experiment consists of an experimental group and a control group , with subjects randomly assigned to either group. The researcher makes a change to the experimental group that is not made to the control group. If the two groups differ later in some variable, then it is safe to say that the condition to which the experimental group was subjected was responsible for the difference that resulted.

A student working on an experiment in science class

Experiments are very common in the natural and physical sciences and in sociology. A major advantage of experiments is that they are very useful for establishing cause-and-effect-relationships.

biologycorner – Science Experiment – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Most experiments take place in the laboratory, which for psychologists may be a room with a one-way mirror, but some experiments occur in “the field,” or in a natural setting. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the early 1980s, sociologists were involved in a much-discussed field experiment sponsored by the federal government. The researchers wanted to see whether arresting men for domestic violence made it less likely that they would commit such violence again. To test this hypothesis, the researchers had police do one of the following after arriving at the scene of a domestic dispute: they either arrested the suspect, separated him from his wife or partner for several hours, or warned him to stop but did not arrest or separate him. The researchers then determined the percentage of men in each group who committed repeated domestic violence during the next 6 months and found that those who were arrested had the lowest rate of recidivism, or repeat offending (Sherman & Berk, 1984). This finding led many jurisdictions across the United States to adopt a policy of mandatory arrest for domestic violence suspects. However, replications of the Minneapolis experiment in other cities found that arrest sometimes reduced recidivism for domestic violence but also sometimes increased it, depending on which city was being studied and on certain characteristics of the suspects, including whether they were employed at the time of their arrest (Sherman, 1992).

As the Minneapolis study suggests, perhaps the most important problem with experiments is that their results are not generalizable beyond the specific subjects studied. The subjects in most psychology experiments, for example, are college students, who are not typical of average Americans: they are younger, more educated, and more likely to be middle class. Despite this problem, experiments in psychology and other social sciences have given us very valuable insights into the sources of attitudes and behavior.

Observational Studies and Intensive Interviewing

Observational research, also called field research, is a staple of sociology. Sociologists have long gone into the field to observe people and social settings, and the result has been many rich descriptions and analyses of behavior in juvenile gangs, bars, urban street corners, and even whole communities.

Observational studies consist of both participant observation and nonparticipant observation . Their names describe how they differ. In participant observation, the researcher is part of the group that she or he is studying. The researcher thus spends time with the group and might even live with them for a while. Several classical sociological studies of this type exist, many of them involving people in urban neighborhoods (Liebow, 1967, 1993; Whyte, 1943). Participant researchers must try not to let their presence influence the attitudes or behavior of the people they are observing. In nonparticipant observation, the researcher observes a group of people but does not otherwise interact with them. If you went to your local shopping mall to observe, say, whether people walking with children looked happier than people without children, you would be engaging in nonparticipant observation.

A related type of research design is intensive interviewing . Here a researcher does not necessarily observe a group of people in their natural setting but rather sits down with them individually and interviews them at great length, often for one or two hours or even longer. The researcher typically records the interview and later transcribes it for analysis. The advantages and disadvantages of intensive interviewing are similar to those for observational studies: intensive interviewing provides much information about the subjects being interviewed, but the results of such interviewing cannot necessarily be generalized beyond the subjects.

A classic example of field research is Kai T. Erikson’s Everything in Its Path (1976), a study of the loss of community bonds in the aftermath of a flood in a West Virginia mining community, Buffalo Creek. The flood occurred when an artificial dam composed of mine waste gave way after days of torrential rain. The local mining company had allowed the dam to build up in violation of federal law. When it broke, 132 million gallons of water broke through and destroyed several thousand homes in seconds while killing 125 people. Some 2,500 other people were rendered instantly homeless. Erikson was called in by the lawyers representing the survivors to document the sociological effects of their loss of community, and the book he wrote remains a moving account of how the destruction of the Buffalo Creek way of life profoundly affected the daily lives of its residents.

A man interviewing a woman on video

Intensive interviewing can yield in-depth information about the subjects who are interviewed, but the results of this research design cannot necessarily be generalized beyond these subjects.

Fellowship of the Rich – Interview – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Similar to experiments, observational studies cannot automatically be generalized to other settings or members of the population. But in many ways they provide a richer account of people’s lives than surveys do, and they remain an important method of sociological research.

Existing Data

Sometimes sociologists do not gather their own data but instead analyze existing data that someone else has gathered. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, gathers data on all kinds of areas relevant to the lives of Americans, and many sociologists analyze census data on such topics as poverty, employment, and illness. Sociologists interested in crime and the legal system may analyze data from court records, while medical sociologists often analyze data from patient records at hospitals. Analysis of existing data such as these is called secondary data analysis . Its advantage to sociologists is that someone else has already spent the time and money to gather the data. A disadvantage is that the data set being analyzed may not contain data on all the variables in which a sociologist may be interested or may contain data on variables that are not measured in ways the sociologist might prefer.

Nonprofit organizations often analyze existing data, usually gathered by government agencies, to get a better understanding of the social issue with which an organization is most concerned. They then use their analysis to help devise effective social policies and strategies for dealing with the issue. The “Learning From Other Societies” box discusses a nonprofit organization in Canada that analyzes existing data for this purpose.

Learning From Other Societies

Social Research and Social Policy in Canada

In several nations beyond the United States, nonprofit organizations often use social science research, including sociological research, to develop and evaluate various social reform strategies and social policies. Canada is one of these nations. Information on Canadian social research organizations can be found at http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/index.htm .

The Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy (CRISP) at the University of New Brunswick is one of these organizations. According to its Web site ( http://www.unb.ca/crisp/index.php ), CRISP is “dedicated to conducting policy research aimed at improving the education and care of Canadian children and youth…and supporting low-income countries in their efforts to build research capacity in child development.” To do this, CRISP analyzes data from large data sets, such as the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, and it also evaluates policy efforts at the local, national, and international levels.

A major concern of CRISP has been developmental problems in low-income children and teens. These problems are the focus of a CRISP project called Raising and Leveling the Bar: A Collaborative Research Initiative on Children’s Learning, Behavioral, and Health Outcomes. This project at the time of this writing involved a team of five senior researchers and almost two dozen younger scholars. CRISP notes that Canada may have the most complete data on child development in the world but that much more research with these data needs to be performed to help inform public policy in the area of child development. CRISP’s project aims to use these data to help achieve the following goals, as listed on its Web site: (a) safeguard the healthy development of infants, (b) strengthen early childhood education, (c) improve schools and local communities, (d) reduce socioeconomic segregation and the effects of poverty, and (e) create a family enabling society ( http://www.unb.ca/crisp/rlb.html ). This project has written many policy briefs, journal articles, and popular press articles to educate varied audiences about what the data on children’s development suggest for child policy in Canada.

Key Takeaways

  • The major types of sociological research include surveys, experiments, observational studies, and the use of existing data.
  • Surveys are very common and allow for the gathering of much information on respondents that is relatively superficial. The results of surveys that use random samples can be generalized to the population that the sample represents.
  • Observational studies are also very common and enable in-depth knowledge of a small group of people. Because the samples of these studies are not random, the results cannot necessarily be generalized to a population.
  • Experiments are much less common in sociology than in psychology. When field experiments are conducted in sociology, they can yield valuable information because of their experimental design.

For Your Review

  • Write a brief essay in which you outline the various kinds of surveys and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type.
  • Suppose you wanted to study whether gender affects happiness. Write a brief essay that describes how you would do this either with a survey or with an observational study.

Erikson, K. T. (1976). Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek flood . New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Liebow, E. (1967). Tally’s corner . Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Liebow, E. (1993). Tell them who I am: The lives of homeless women . New York, NY: Free Press.

Sherman, L W. (1992). Policing domestic violence: Experiments and dilemmas . New York, NY: Free Press.

Sherman, L. W., & Berk, R. A. (1984). The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. American Sociological Review, 49 , 261–272.

Whyte, W. F. (1943). Street corner society: The social structure of an Italian slum . Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Sociology Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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What is Survey Research? What are its Advantages and Disadvantages?

What is Survey Research? What are its Advantages and Disadvantages?

Survey research is often used to assess thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Survey research can be specific and limited, or it can have more global, widespread goals.

Today, survey research is used by a variety of different groups. Survey research is often used to assess thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Survey research can be specific and limited, or it can have more global, widespread goals.

Advantages Survey Research.

Also read | Importance of Tabulation of Data.

High Representativeness:

Surveys provide a high level of general capability in representing a large population.

Due to the usual huge number of people who answers survey, the data being gathered possess a better description of the relative characteristics of the general population involved in the study.

As compared to other methods of data gathering, surveys are able to extract data that are near to the exact attributes of the larger population.

When conducting surveys, you only need to pay for the production of survey questionnaires.

If you need a larger sample of the general population, you can allot an incentive in cash or kind, which can be as low as $2 per person.

On the other hand, other data gathering methods such as focus groups and personal interviews require researchers to pay more.

Also read | Quartile Deviation (QD) and Standard Deviation (SD).

Convenient Data Gathering:

Surveys can be administered to the participants through a variety of ways. The questionnaires can simply be sent via e-mail or fax, or can be administered through the Internet.

Now a days, the online survey method has been the most popular way of gathering data from target participants. Aside from the convenience of data gathering, researchers are able to collect data from people around the globe.

Good Statistical Significance:

Because of the high representativeness brought about by the survey method, it is often easier to find statistically significant results than other data gathering methods. Multiple variables can also be effectively analyzed using surveys.

Also read | Methods for Organizing Data.

Little or No Observer Subjectivity:

Surveys are ideal for scientific research studies because they provide all the participants with a standardized stimulus. With such high reliability obtained, the researcher’s own biases are eliminated.

Precise Results:

As questions in the survey should undergo careful scrutiny and standardization, they provide uniform definitions to all the subjects who are to answer the questionnaires. Thus, there is a greater precision in terms of measuring the data gathered.

Disadvantages of Surveys Research:

Also read | Functional Autonomy of Motives and its types.

Inflexible Design:

The survey that was used by the researcher from the very beginning, as well as the method of administering it, cannot be changed all throughout the process of data gathering.

Although this inflexibility can be viewed as a weakness of the survey method, this can also be a strength considering the fact that preciseness and fairness can both be exercised in the study.

Not Ideal for Controversial Issues:

Questions that bear controversies may not be precisely answered by the participants because of the probably difficulty of recalling the information related to them.

The truth behind these controversies may not be relieved as accurately as when using alternative data gathering methods such as face-to-face interviews and focus groups.

Also read | Different stages of development of the Proprium.

Possible Inappropriateness of Questions:

Questions in surveys are always standardized before administering them to the subjects.

The researcher is therefore forced to create questions that are general enough to accommodate the general population. However, these general questions may not be as appropriate for all the participants as they should be.

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What is Tabulation of Data? Discuss the Importance of Tabulation.

What is Tabulation of Data? Discuss the Importance of Tabulation.

What is Quartile Deviation (QD) and Standard Deviation (SD)?

What is Quartile Deviation (QD) and Standard Deviation (SD)?

What is Organization of Data? Mention various Methods for Organizing Data.

What is Organization of Data? Mention various Methods for Organizing Data.

Define the Functional Autonomy of Motives and its types.

Define the Functional Autonomy of Motives and its types.

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  • Surveys - Pros and Cons

Advantages and Disadvantages of Surveys

Among the different methods of data gathering for research purposes, the survey method is preferred by many researchers due to its various advantages, strengths and benefits. However, surveys also have their disadvantages and weak points that must be considered.

This article is a part of the guide:

  • Response Scales
  • Example - Questionnaire
  • Surveys and Questionnaires - Guide
  • Types of Surveys
  • Personal Interview

Browse Full Outline

  • 1 Surveys and Questionnaires - Guide
  • 2.1 Research and Surveys
  • 2.2 Advantages and Disadvantages
  • 2.3 Survey Design
  • 2.4 Sampling
  • 3.1 Defining Goals
  • 4.1 Survey Layout
  • 4.2 Types of Questions
  • 4.3 Constructing Questions
  • 4.4 Response Formats
  • 4.5 Response Scales
  • 5.1 Selecting Method
  • 5.2 Personal Interview
  • 5.3 Telephone
  • 5.4.1 Preparing Online Surveys
  • 5.4.2 Online Tools
  • 5.5 Focus Group
  • 5.6 Panel Study
  • 6.1 Pilot Survey
  • 6.2 Increasing Response Rates
  • 7.1 Analysis and Data
  • 7.2 Conclusion
  • 7.3 Presenting the Results
  • 8 Example - Questionnaire
  • 9 Checklist

survey research design advantages and disadvantages

Advantages of Surveys

1. high representativeness.

Surveys provide a high level of general capability in representing a large population . Due to the usual huge number of people who answers survey, the data being gathered possess a better description of the relative characteristics of the general population involved in the study. As compared to other methods of data gathering, surveys are able to extract data that are near to the exact attributes of the larger population.

2. Low Costs

When conducting surveys, you only need to pay for the production of survey questionnaires. If you need a larger sample of the general population, you can allot an incentive in cash or kind, which can be as low as $2 per person. On the other hand, other data gathering methods such as focus groups and personal interviews require researchers to pay more.

3. Convenient Data Gathering

Surveys can be administered to the participants through a variety of ways. The questionnaires can simply be sent via e-mail or fax, or can be administered through the Internet. Nowadays, the online survey method has been the most popular way of gathering data from target participants. Aside from the convenience of data gathering, researchers are able to collect data from people around the globe.

4. Good Statistical Significance

Because of the high representativeness brought about by the survey method, it is often easier to find statistically significant results than other data gathering methods. Multiple variables can also be effectively analyzed using surveys.

5. Little or No Observer Subjectivity

Surveys are ideal for scientific research studies because they provide all the participants with a standardized stimulus. With such high reliability obtained, the researcher’s own biases are eliminated.

6. Precise Results

As questions in the survey should undergo careful scrutiny and standardization , they provide uniform definitions to all the subjects who are to answer the questionnaires. Thus, there is a greater precision in terms of measuring the data gathered.

survey research design advantages and disadvantages

Disadvantages of Surveys

1. inflexible design.

The survey that was used by the researcher from the very beginning, as well as the method of administering it, cannot be changed all throughout the process of data gathering. Although this inflexibility can be viewed as a weakness of the survey method, this can also be a strength considering the fact that preciseness and fairness can both be exercised in the study.

2. Not Ideal for Controversial Issues

Questions that bear controversies may not be precisely answered by the participants because of the probably difficulty of recalling the information related to them. The truth behind these controversies may not be relieved as accurately as when using alternative data gathering methods such as face-to-face interviews and focus groups .

3. Possible Inappropriateness of Questions

Questions in surveys are always standardized before administering them to the subjects. The researcher is therefore forced to create questions that are general enough to accommodate the general population. However, these general questions may not be as appropriate for all the participants as they should be.

A good example of this situation is administering a survey which focuses on affective variables, or variables that deal with emotions.

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Sarah Mae Sincero (Mar 18, 2012). Advantages and Disadvantages of Surveys. Retrieved May 10, 2024 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-surveys

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Cross-Sectional Studies: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Recommendations

Affiliations.

  • 1 Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH. Electronic address: [email protected].
  • 2 Department of Respiratory Medicine, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China.
  • PMID: 32658654
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.03.012

Cross-sectional studies are observational studies that analyze data from a population at a single point in time. They are often used to measure the prevalence of health outcomes, understand determinants of health, and describe features of a population. Unlike other types of observational studies, cross-sectional studies do not follow individuals up over time. They are usually inexpensive and easy to conduct. They are useful for establishing preliminary evidence in planning a future advanced study. This article reviews the essential characteristics, describes strengths and weaknesses, discusses methodological issues, and gives our recommendations on design and statistical analysis for cross-sectional studies in pulmonary and critical care medicine. A list of considerations for reviewers is also provided.

Keywords: bias; confounding; cross-sectional studies; prevalence; sampling.

Copyright © 2020 American College of Chest Physicians. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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  • Cross-Sectional Studies / statistics & numerical data*
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survey research design advantages and disadvantages

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REVIEW article

On the advantages and disadvantages of choice: future research directions in choice overload and its moderators.

Raffaella Misuraca

  • 1 Department of Political Science and International Relations (DEMS), University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy
  • 2 Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University, Salem, OR, United States
  • 3 Department of Psychology, Educational Science and Human Movement, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy

Researchers investigating the psychological effects of choice have provided extensive empirical evidence that having choice comes with many advantages, including better performance, more motivation, and greater life satisfaction and disadvantages, such as avoidance of decisions and regret. When the decision task difficulty exceeds the natural cognitive resources of human mind, the possibility to choose becomes more a source of unhappiness and dissatisfaction than an opportunity for a greater well-being, a phenomenon referred to as choice overload. More recently, internal and external moderators that impact when choice overload occurs have been identified. This paper reviews seminal research on the advantages and disadvantages of choice and provides a systematic qualitative review of the research examining moderators of choice overload, laying out multiple critical paths forward for needed research in this area. We organize this literature review using two categories of moderators: the choice environment or context of the decision as well as the decision-maker characteristics.

Introduction

The current marketing orientation adopted by many organizations is to offer a wide range of options that differ in only minor ways. For example, in a common western grocery store contains 285 types of cookies, 120 different pasta sauces, 175 salad-dressing, and 275 types of cereal ( Botti and Iyengar, 2006 ). However, research in psychology and consumer behavior has demonstrated that when the number of alternatives to choose from becomes excessive (or superior to the decision-makers’ cognitive resources), choice is mostly a disadvantage to both the seller and the buyer. This phenomenon has been called choice overload and it refers to a variety of negative consequences stemming from having too many choices, including increased choice deferral, switching likelihood, or decision regret, as well as decreased choice satisfaction and confidence (e.g., Chernev et al., 2015 ). Choice overload has been replicated in numerous fields and laboratory settings, with different items (e.g., jellybeans, pens, coffee, chocolates, etc.), actions (reading, completing projects, and writing essays), and populations (e.g., Chernev, 2003 ; Iyengar et al., 2004 ; Schwartz, 2004 ; Shah and Wolford, 2007 ; Mogilner et al., 2008 ; Fasolo et al., 2009 ; Misuraca and Teuscher, 2013 ; Misuraca and Faraci, 2021 ; Misuraca et al., 2022 ; see also Misuraca, 2013 ). Over time, we have gained insight into numerous moderators of the choice overload phenomena, including aspects of the context or choice environment as well as the individual characteristics of the decision-maker (for a detailed review see Misuraca et al., 2020 ).

The goal of this review is to summarize important research findings that drive our current understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of choice, focusing on the growing body of research investigating moderators of choice overload. Following a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of choice, we review the existing empirical literature examining moderators of choice overload. We organize this literature review using two categories of moderators: the choice environment or context of the decision as well as the decision-maker characteristics. Finally, based on this systematic review of research, we propose a variety of future research directions for choice overload investigators, ranging from exploring underlying mechanisms of choice overload moderators to broadening the area of investigation to include a robust variety of decision-making scenarios.

Theoretical background

The advantages of choice.

Decades of research in psychology have demonstrated the many advantages of choice. Indeed, increased choice options are associated with increase intrinsic motivation ( Deci, 1975 ; Deci et al., 1981 ; Deci and Ryan, 1985 ), improved task performance ( Rotter, 1966 ), enhanced life satisfaction ( Langer and Rodin, 1976 ), and improved well-being ( Taylor and Brown, 1988 ). Increased choice options also have the potential to satisfy heterogeneous preferences and produce greater utility ( Lancaster, 1990 ). Likewise, economic research has demonstrated that larger assortments provide a higher chance to find an option that perfectly matches the individual preferences ( Baumol and Ide, 1956 ). In other words, with larger assortments it is easier to find what a decision-maker wants.

The impact of increased choice options extends into learning, internal motivation, and performance. Zuckerman et al. (1978) asked college students to solve puzzles. Half of the participants could choose the puzzle they would solve from six options. For the other half of participants, instead, the puzzle was imposed by the researchers. It was found that the group free to choose the puzzle was more motivated, more engaged and exhibited better performance than the group that could not choose the puzzle to solve. In similar research, Schraw et al. (1998) asked college students to read a book. Participants were assigned to either a choice condition or a non-choice condition. In the first one, they were free to choose the book to read, whereas in the second condition the books to read were externally imposed, according to a yoked procedure. Results demonstrated the group that was free to make decisions was more motivated to read, more engaged, and more satisfied compared to the group that was not allowed to choose the book to read ( Schraw et al., 1998 ).

These effects remain consistent with children and when choice options are constrained to incidental aspects of the learning context. In the study by Cordova and Lepper (1996) , elementary school children played a computer game designed to teach arithmetic and problem-solving skills. One group could make decisions about incidental aspects of the learning context, including which spaceship was used and its name, whereas another group could not make any choice (all the choices about the game’s features were externally imposed by the experimenters). The results demonstrated that the first group was more motivated to play the game, more engaged in the task, learned more of the arithmetical concepts involved in the game, and preferred to solve more difficult tasks compared to the second group.

Extending benefits of choice into health consequences, Langer and Rodin (1976) examined the impact that choice made in nursing home patients. In this context, it was observed that giving patients the possibility to make decisions about apparently irrelevant aspects of their life (e.g., at what time to watch a movie; how to dispose the furniture in their bedrooms, etc.), increased psychological and physiological well-being. The lack of choice resulted, instead, in a state of learned helplessness, as well as deterioration of physiological and psychological functions.

The above studies lead to the conclusion that choice has important advantages over no choice and, to some extent, limited choice options. It seems that providing more choice options is an improvement – it will be more motivating, more satisfying, and yield greater well-being. In line with this conclusion, the current orientation in marketing is to offer a huge variety of products that differ only in small details (e.g., Botti and Iyengar, 2006 ). However, research in psychology and consumer behavior demonstrated that when the number of alternatives to choose from exceeds the decision-makers’ cognitive resources, choice can become a disadvantage.

The disadvantages of choice

A famous field study conducted by Iyengar and Lepper (2000) in a Californian supermarket demonstrated that too much choice decreases customers’ motivation to buy as well as their post-choice satisfaction. Tasting booths were set up in two different areas of the supermarket, one of which displayed 6 different jars of jam while the other displayed 24 options, with customers free to taste any of the different flavors of jam. As expected, the larger assortment attracted more passers-by compared to the smaller assortment; Indeed, 60% of passers-by stopped at the table displaying 24 different options, whereas only 40% of the passers-by stopped at the table displaying the small variety of 6 jams. This finding was expected given that more choice options are appealing. However, out of the 60% of passers-by who stopped at the table with more choices, only 3% of them decided to buy jam. Conversely, 30% of the consumers who stopped at the table with only 6 jars of jam decided to purchase at least one jar. Additionally, these customers expressed a higher level of satisfaction with their choices, compared to those who purchased a jar of jam from the larger assortment. In other words, it seems that too much choice is at the beginning more appealing (attracts more customers), but it decreases the motivation to choose and the post-choice satisfaction.

This classic and seminal example of choice overload was quickly followed by many replications that expanded the findings from simple purchasing decisions into other realms of life. For example, Iyengar and Lepper (2000) , asked college students to write an essay. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the following two experimental conditions: limited-choice condition, in which they could choose from a list of six topics for the essay, and extensive-choice condition, in which they could choose from a list of 30 different topics for the essay. Results showed that a higher percentage of college students (74%) turned in the essay in the first condition compared to the second condition (60%). Moreover, the essays written by the students in the limited-choice conditions were evaluated as being higher quality compared to the essays written by the students in the extensive choice condition. In a separate study, college students were asked to choose one chocolate from two randomly assigned choice conditions with either 6 or 30 different chocolates. Those participants in the limited choice condition reporting being more satisfied with their choice and more willing to purchase chocolates at the end of the experiment, compared to participants who chose from the larger assortment ( Iyengar and Lepper, 2000 ).

In the field of financial decision-making, Iyengar et al. (2004) analyzed 800,000 employees’ decisions about their participation in 401(k) plans that offered from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 59 different fund options. The researchers observed that as the fund options increased, the participation rate decreased. Specifically, plans offering less than 10 options had the highest participation rate, whereas plans offering 59 options had the lowest participation rate.

The negative consequences of having too much choice driven by cognitive limitations. Simon (1957) noted that decision-makers have a bounded rationality. In other words, the human mind cannot process an unlimited amount of information. Individuals’ working memory has a span of about 7 (plus or minus two) items ( Miller, 1956 ), which means that of all the options to choose from, individuals can mentally process only about 7 alternatives at a time. Because of these cognitive limitations, when the number of choices becomes too high, the comparison of all the available items becomes cognitively unmanageable and, consequently, decision-makers feel overwhelmed, confused, less motivated to choose and less satisfied (e.g., Iyengar and Lepper, 2000 ). However, a more recent meta-analytic work [ Chernev et al., 2015 : see also Misuraca et al. (2020) ] has shown that choice overload occurs only under certain conditions. Many moderators that mitigate the phenomenon have been identified by researchers in psychology and consumer behavior (e.g., Mogilner et al., 2008 ; Misuraca et al., 2016a ). In the next sections, we describe our review methodology and provide a detailed discussion of the main external and internal moderators of choice overload.

Literature search and inclusion criteria

Our investigation consisted of a literature review of peer-reviewed empirical research examining moderators of choice overload. We took several steps to locate and identify eligible studies. First, we sought to establish a list of moderators examined in the choice overload literature. For this, we referenced reviews conducted by Chernev et al. (2015) , McShane and Böckenholt (2017) , as well as Misuraca et al. (2020) and reviewed the references sections of the identified articles to locate additional studies. Using the list of moderators generated from this examination, we conducted a literature search using PsycInfo (Psychological Abstracts), EBSCO and Google Scholar. This search included such specific terms such as choice set complexity, visual preference heuristic, and choice preference uncertainty, as well as broad searches for ‘choice overload’ and ‘moderator’.

We used several inclusion criteria to select relevant articles. First, the article had to note that it was examining the choice overload phenomena. Studies examining other theories and/or related variables were excluded. Second, to ensure that we were including high-quality research methods that have been evaluated by scholars, only peer-reviewed journal articles were included. Third, the article had to include primary empirical data (qualitative or quantitative). Thus, studies that were conceptual in nature were excluded. This process yielded 49 articles for the subsequent review.

Moderators of choice overload

Choice environment and context.

Regarding external moderators of choice overload, several aspects about the choice environment become increasingly relevant. Specifically, these include the perceptual attributes of the information, complexity of the set of options, decision task difficulty, as well as the presence of brand names.

Perceptual characteristics

As Miller (1956) noted, humans have “channel capacity” for information processing and these differ for divergent stimuli: for taste, we have a capacity to accommodate four; for tones, the capacity increased to six; and for visual stimuli, we have the capacity for 10–15 items. Accordingly, perceptual attributes of choice options are an important moderator of choice overload, with visual presentation being one of the most important perceptual attributes ( Townsend and Kahn, 2014 ). The visual preference heuristic refers to the tendency to prefer a visual rather than verbal representation of choice options, regardless of assortment size ( Townsend and Kahn, 2014 ). However, despite this preference, visual presentations of large assortments lead to suboptimal decisions compared to verbal presentations, as visual presentations activate a less systematic decision-making approach ( Townsend and Kahn, 2014 ). Visual presentation of large choice sets is also associated with increased perceptions of complexity and likelihood of decisions deferral. Visual representations are particularly effective with small assortments, as they increase consumers’ perception of variety, improve the likelihood of making a choice, and reduce the time spent examining options ( Townsend and Kahn, 2014 ).

Choice set complexity

Choice set complexity refers to a wide range of aspects of a decision task that affect the value of the available choice options without influencing the structural characteristics of the decision problem ( Payne et al., 1993 ). Thus, choice set complexity does not influence aspects such as the number of options, number of attributes of each option, or format in which the information is presented. Rather, choice set complexity concerns factors such as the attractiveness of options, the presence of a dominant option, and the complementarity or alignability of the options.

Choice set complexity increases when the options include higher-quality, more attractive options ( Chernev and Hamilton, 2009 ). Indeed, when the variability in the relative attractiveness of the choice alternatives increases, the certainty about the choice and the satisfaction with the task increase ( Malhotra, 1982 ). Accordingly, when the number of attractive options increases, more choice options led to a decline in consumer satisfaction and likelihood of a decision being made, but satisfaction increases and decision deferral decreased when the number of unattractive options increases ( Dhar, 1997 ). This occurs when increased choice options make the weakness and strengths of attractive and unattractive options more salient ( Chan, 2015 ).

Similarly, the presence of a dominant option simplifies large choice sets and increased the preference for the chosen option; however, the opposite effect happens in small choice sets ( Chernev, 2003 ). Choice sets containing an ideal option have been associated with increased brain activity in the areas involved in reward and value processing as well as in the integration of costs and benefits (striatum and the anterior cingulate cortex; Reutskaja et al., 2018 ) which could explain why larger choice sets are not always associated with choice overload. As Misuraca et al. (2020 , p. 639) noted, “ the benefits of having an ideal item in the set might compensate for the costs of overwhelming set size in the bounded rational mind of humans . ”

Finally, choice set complexity is impacted by the alignability and complementarity of the attributes that differentiate the options ( Chernev et al., 2015 ). When unique attributes of options exist within a choice set, complexity and choice overload increase as the unique attributes make comparison more difficult and trade-offs more salient. Indeed, feature alignability and complementarity (meaning that the options have additive utility and need to be co-present to fully satisfy the decision-maker’s need) 1 have been associated with decision deferral ( Chernev, 2005 ; Gourville and Soman, 2005 ) and changes in satisfaction ( Griffin and Broniarczyk, 2010 ).

Decision task difficulty

Decision task difficulty refers to the structural characteristics of a decision problem; unlike choice set complexity, decision task difficulty does not influence the value of the choice options ( Payne et al., 1993 ). Decision task difficulty is influenced by the number of attributes used to describe available options, decision accountability, time constraints, and presentation format.

The number of attributes used to describe the available options within an assortment influences decision task difficulty and choice overload ( Hoch et al., 1999 ; Chernev, 2003 ; Greifeneder et al., 2010 ), such that choice overload increases with the number of dimensions upon which the options differ. With each additional dimension, decision-makers have another piece of information that must be attended to and evaluated. Along with increasing the cognitive complexity of the choice, additional dimensions likely increase the odds that each option is inferior to other options on one dimension or another (e.g., Chernev et al., 2015 ).

When individuals have decision accountability or are required to justify their choice of an assortment to others, they tend to prefer larger assortments; However, when individuals must justify their particular choice from an assortment to others, they tend to prefer smaller choice sets ( Ratner and Kahn, 2002 ; Chernev, 2006 ; Scheibehenne et al., 2009 ). Indeed, decision accountability is associated with decision deferral when choice sets are larger compared to smaller ( Gourville and Soman, 2005 ). Thus, decision accountability influences decision task difficulty differently depending on whether an individual is selecting an assortment or choosing an option from an assortment.

Time pressure or constraint is an important contextual factor for decision task difficulty, choice overload, and decision regret ( Payne et al., 1993 ). Time pressure affects the strategies that are used to make decisions as well as the quality of the decisions made. When confronted with time pressure, decision-makers tend to speed up information processing, which could be accomplished by limiting the amount of information that they process and use ( Payne et al., 1993 ; Pieters and Warlop, 1999 ; Reutskaja et al., 2011 ). Decision deferral becomes a more likely outcome, as is choosing at random and regretting the decision later ( Inbar et al., 2011 ).

The physical arrangement and presentation of options and information affect information perception, processing, and decision-making. This moderates the effect of choice overload because these aspects facilitate or inhibit decision-makers’ ability to process a greater information load (e.g., Chernev et al., 2015 ; Anderson and Misuraca, 2017 ). The location of options and structure of presented information allow the retrieval of information about the options, thus allowing choosers to distinguish and evaluate various options (e.g., Chandon et al., 2009 ). Specifically, organizing information into “chunks” facilitates information processing ( Miller, 1956 ) as well as the perception of greater variety in large choice sets ( Kahn and Wansink, 2004 ). Interestingly, these “chunks” do not have to be informative; Mogilner et al. (2008) found that choice overload was mitigated to the same extent when large choice sets were grouped into generic categories (i.e., A, B, etc.) as when the categories were meaningful descriptions of characteristics.

Beyond organization, the presentation order can facilitate or inhibit decision-makers cognitive processing ability. Levav et al. (2010) found that choice overload decreased and choice satisfaction increased when smaller choice sets were followed by larger choice sets, compared to the opposite order of presentation. When sets are highly varied, Huffman and Kahn (1998) found that decision-makers were more satisfied and willing to make a choice when information was presented about attributes (i.e., price and characteristics) rather than available alternatives (i.e., images of options). Finally, presenting information simultaneously, rather than sequentially, increases decision satisfaction ( Mogilner et al., 2013 ), likely due to decision-makers choosing among an available set rather than comparing each option to an imaged ideal option.

Brand names

The presence of brand names is an important moderator of choice overload. As recently demonstrated by researchers in psychology and consumer behavior, choice overload occurs only when options are not associated with brands, choice overload occurs when the same choice options are presented without any brand names ( Misuraca et al., 2019 , 2021a ). When choosing between 6 or 24 different mobile phones, choice overload did not occur in the condition in which phones were associated with a well-known brand (i.e., Apple, Samsung, Nokia, etc.), although it did occur when the same cell phones were displayed without information about their brand. These findings have been replicated with a population of adolescents ( Misuraca et al., 2021a ).

Decision-maker characteristics

Beyond the choice environment and context, individual differences in decision-maker characteristics are significant moderators of choice overload. Several critical characteristics include the decision goal as well as an individual’s preference uncertainty, affective state, decision style, and demographic variables such as age, gender, and cultural background (e.g., Misuraca et al., 2021a ).

Decision goal

A decision goal refers to the extent to which a decision-maker aims to minimize the cognitive resources spent making a decision ( Chernev, 2003 ). Decision goals have been associated with choice overload, with choice overload increasing along with choice set options, likely due to decision-makers unwillingness to make tradeoffs between various options. As a moderator of choice overload, there are several factors which impact the effect of decision goals, including decision intent (choosing or browsing) and decision focus (choosing an assortment or an option) ( Misuraca et al., 2020 ).

Decision intent varies between choosing, with the goal of making a decision among the available options, and browsing, with the goal of learning more about the options. Cognitive overload is more likely to occur than when decision makers’ goal is choosing compared to browsing. For choosing goals, decision-makers need to make trade-offs among the pros and cons of the options, something that demands more cognitive resources. Accordingly, decision-makers whose goal is browsing, rather than choosing, are less likely to experience cognitive overload when facing large assortments ( Chernev and Hamilton, 2009 ). Furthermore, when decision-makers have a goal of choosing, brain research reveals inverted-U-shaped function, with neither too much nor too little choice providing optimal cognitive net benefits ( Reutskaja et al., 2018 ).

Decision focus can target selecting an assortment or selecting an option from an assortment. When selecting an assortment, cognitive overload is less likely to occur, likely due to the lack of individual option evaluation and trade-offs ( Chernev et al., 2015 ). Thus, when choosing an assortment, decision-makers tend to prefer larger assortments that provide more variety. Conversely, decision-makers focused on choosing an option from an assortment report increased decision difficulty and tend to prefer smaller assortments ( Chernev, 2006 ). Decision overload is further moderated by the order of decision focus. Scheibehenne et al. (2010) found that when decision-makers first decide on an assortment, they are more likely to choose an option from that assortment, rather than an option from an assortment they did not first select.

Preference uncertainty

The degree to which decision-makers have preferences varies regarding comprehension and prioritization of the costs and benefits of the choice options. This is referred to as preference uncertainty ( Chernev, 2003 ). Preference uncertainty is influenced by decision-maker expertise and an articulated ideal option, which indicates well-defined preferences. When decision-makers have limited expertise, larger choice sets are associated with weaker preferences as well as increased choice deferral and choice overload compared to smaller choice sets. Conversely, high expertise decision-makers experience weaker preferences and increased choice deferral in the context of smaller choice sets compared to larger ( Mogilner et al., 2008 ; Morrin et al., 2012 ). Likewise, an articulated ideal option, which implies that the decision-maker has already engaged in trade-offs, is associated with reduced decision complexity. The effect is more pronounced in larger choice sets compared to smaller choice sets ( Chernev, 2003 ).

Positive affect

Positive affect tends to moderate the impact of choice overload on decision satisfaction. Indeed, Spassova and Isen (2013) found that decision-makers reporting positive affect did not report experiencing dissatisfaction when choosing from larger choice sets while those with neutral affect reported being more satisfied when choosing from smaller choice sets. This affect may be associated with the affect heuristic, or a cognitive shortcut that enables efficient decisions based on the immediate emotional response to a stimulus ( Slovic et al., 2007 ).

Decision-making tendencies

Satisfaction with extensive choice options may depend on whether one is a maximizer or a satisficer. Maximizing refers to the tendency to search for the best option. Maximizers approach decision tasks with the goal to find the absolute best ( Carmeci et al., 2009 ; Misuraca et al., 2015 , 2016b , 2021b ; Misuraca and Fasolo, 2018 ). To do that, they tend to process all the information available and try to compare all the possible options. Conversely, satisficers are decision-makers whose goal is to select an option that is good enough, rather than the best choice. To find such an option, satisficers evaluate a smaller range of options, and choose as soon as they find one alternative that surpasses their threshold of acceptability ( Schwartz, 2004 ). Given the different approach of maximizers and satisficers when choosing, it is easy to see why choice overload represents more of a problem for maximizers than for satisficers. If the number of choices exceeds the individuals’ cognitive resources, maximizers more than satisficers would feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and dissatisfied, because an evaluation of all the available options to select the best one is cognitively impossible.

Maximizers attracted considerable attention from researchers because of the paradoxical finding that even though they make objectively better decisions than satisficers, they report greater regret and dissatisfaction. Specifically, Iyengar et al. (2006) , analyzed the job search outcomes of college students during their final college year and found that maximizer students selected jobs with 20% higher salaries compared to satisficers, but they felt less satisfied and happy, as well as more stressed, frustrated, anxious, and regretful than students who were satisficers. The reasons for these negative feelings of maximizers lies in their tendency to believe that a better option is among those that they could not evaluate, given their time and cognitive limitations.

Choosing for others versus oneself

When decision-makers must make a choice for someone else, choice overload does not occur ( Polman, 2012 ). When making choices for others (about wines, ice-cream flavors, school courses, etc.), decision makers reported greater satisfaction when choosing from larger assortments rather than smaller assortments. However, when choosing for themselves, they reported higher satisfaction after choosing from smaller rather than larger assortments.

Demographics

Demographic variables such as gender, age, and cultural background moderate reactions concerning choice overload. Regarding gender, men and women may often employ different information-processing strategies, with women being more likely to attend to and use details than men (e.g., Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran, 1991 ). Gender differences also arise in desire for variety and satisfaction depending on choice type. While women were more satisfied with their choice of gift boxes regardless of assortment size, women become more selective than men when speed-dating with larger groups of speed daters compared to smaller groups ( Fisman et al., 2006 ).

Age moderates the choice overload experience such that, when choosing from an extensive array of options, adolescents and adults suffer similar negative consequences (i.e., greater difficulty and dissatisfaction), while children and seniors suffer fewer negative consequences (i.e., less difficulty and dissatisfaction than adolescents and adults) ( Misuraca et al., 2016a ). This could be associated with decision-making tendencies. Indeed, adults and adolescents tend to adopt maximizing approaches ( Furby and Beyth-Marom, 1992 ). This maximizing tendency aligns with their greater perceived difficulty and post-choice dissatisfaction when facing a high number of options ( Iyengar et al., 2006 ). Seniors tend to adopt a satisficing approach when making decisions ( Tanius et al., 2009 ), as well as become overconfident in their judgments ( Stankov and Crawford, 1996 ) and focused on positive information ( Mather and Carstensen, 2005 ). Taken together, these could explain why the negative consequences of too many choice options were milder among seniors. Finally, children tend to approach decisions in an intuitive manner and quickly develop strong preferences ( Schlottmann and Wilkening, 2011 ). This mitigates the negative consequences of choice overload for this age group.

Finally, decision-makers from different cultures have different preferences for variety (e.g., Iyengar, 2010 ). Eastern Europeans report greater satisfaction with larger choice sets than Western Europeans ( Reutskaja et al., 2022 ). Likewise, cultural differences in perception may impact how choice options affect decision-makers from Western and non-Western cultures (e.g., Miyamoto et al., 2006 ).

Future research directions

As researchers continue to investigate the choice overload phenomenon, future investigations can provide a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that influence when and how individuals experience the negative impacts of choice overload as well as illuminate how this phenomenon can affect people in diverse contexts (such as hiring decisions, sports, social media platforms, streaming services, etc.).

For instance, the visual preference heuristic indicates, and subsequent research supports, the human tendency to prefer visual rather than verbal representations of choice options ( Townsend and Kahn, 2014 ). However, in Huffman and Kahn’s (1998) research, decision-makers preferred written information, such as characteristics of the sofa, rather than visual representations of alternatives. Future researchers can investigate the circumstances that underlie when individuals prefer detailed written or verbal information as opposed to visual images.

Furthermore, future researchers can examine the extent to which the mechanisms underlying the impact of chunking align with those underlying the effect of brand names. Research has supported that chunking information reduces choice overload, regardless of the sophistication of the categories ( Kahn and Wansink, 2004 ; Mogilner et al., 2008 ). The presence of a brand name has a seemingly similar effect ( Misuraca et al., 2019 , 2021a ). The extent to which the cognitive processes underlying these two areas of research the similar, as well as the ways in which they might differ, can provide valuable insights for researchers and practitioners.

More research is needed that considers the role of the specific culture and cultural values of the decision-maker on choice overload. Indeed, the traditional studies on the choice overload phenomenon mentioned above predominantly focused on western cultures, which are known for being individualistic cultures. Future research should explore whether choice overload replicates in collectivistic cultures, which value the importance of making personal decisions differently than individualist cultures. Additional cultural values, such as long-term or short-term time orientation, may also impact decision-makers and the extent to which they experience choice overload ( Hofstede and Minkov, 2010 ).

While future research that expands our understanding of the currently known and identified moderators of choice overload can critically inform our understanding of when and how this phenomenon occurs, there are many new and exciting directions into which researchers can expand.

For example, traditional research on choice overload focused on choice scenarios where decision-makers had to choose only one option out of either a small or a large assortment of options. This is clearly an important scenario, yet it represents only one of many scenarios that choice overload may impact. Future research could investigate when and how this phenomenon occurs in a wide variety of scenarios that are common in the real-world but currently neglected in classical studies on choice overload. These could include situations in which the individual can choose more than one option (e.g., more than one type of ice cream or cereal) (see Fasolo et al., 2024 ).

Historically, a significant amount of research on choice overload has focused on purchasing decisions. Some evidence also indicates that the phenomenon occurs in a variety of situations (e.g., online dating, career choices, retirement planning, travel and tourism, and education), potentially hindering decision-making processes and outcomes. Future research should further investigate how choice overload impacts individuals in a variety of untested situations. For instance, how might choice overload impact the hiring manager with a robust pool of qualified applicants? How would the occurrence of choice overload in a hiring situation impact the quality of the decision, making an optimal hire? Likewise, does choice overload play a role in procrastination? When confronted with an overwhelming number of task options, does choice overload play a role in decision deferral? It could be that similar cognitive processes underlie deferring a choice on a purchase and deferring a choice on a to-do list. Research is needed to understand how choice overload (and its moderators) may differ across these scenarios.

Finally, as society continues to adapt and develop, future research will be needed to evaluate the impact these technological and sociological changes have on individual decision-makers. The technology that we interact with has become substantially more sophisticated and omnipresent, particularly in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). As AI is adopted into our work, shopping, and online experiences, future researchers should investigate if AI and interactive decision-aids (e.g., Anderson and Misuraca, 2017 ) can be effectively leveraged to reduce the negative consequences of having too many alternatives without impairing the sense of freedom of decision-makers.

As with technological advancements, future research could examine how new sociological roles contribute to or minimize choice overload. For example, a social media influencer could reduce the complexity of the decision when there is a large number of choice options. If social media influencers have an impact, is that impact consistent across age groups and culturally diverse individuals? Deepening our understanding of how historical and sociological events have impacted decision-makers, along with how cultural differences in our perceptions of the world as noted above, could provide a rich and needed area of future research.

Discussion and conclusion

Research in psychology demonstrated the advantages of being able to make choices from a variety of alternatives, particularly when compared to no choice at all. Having the possibility to choose, indeed, enhances individuals’ feeling of self-determination, motivation, performance, well-being, and satisfaction with life (e.g., Zuckerman et al., 1978 ; Cordova and Lepper, 1996 ). As the world continues to globalize through sophisticated supply chains and seemingly infinite online shopping options, our societies have become characterized by a proliferation of choice options. Today, not only stores, but universities, hospitals, financial advisors, sport centers, and many other businesses offer a huge number of options from which to choose. The variety offered is often so large that decision-makers can become overwhelmed when trying to compare and evaluate all the potential options and experience choice overload ( Iyengar and Lepper, 2000 ). Rather than lose the benefits associated with choice options, researchers and practitioners should understand and leverage the existence of the many moderators that affect the occurrence of choice overload. The findings presented in this review indicate that choice overload is influenced by several factors, including perceptual attributes, choice set complexity, decision task difficulty, and brand association. Understanding these moderators can aid in designing choice environments that optimize decision-making processes and alleviate choice overload. For instance, organizing options effectively and leveraging brand association can enhance decision satisfaction and reduce choice overload. Additionally, considering individual differences such as decision goals, preference uncertainty, affective state, decision-making tendencies, and demographics can tailor decision-making environments to better suit the needs and preferences of individuals, ultimately improving decision outcomes. Future research is needed to fully understand the role of many variables that might be responsible for the negative consequences of choice overload and to better understand under which conditions the phenomenon occurs.

Author contributions

RM: Writing – review & editing, Conceptualization, Data curation, Investigation, Methodology, Writing – original draft. AN: Writing – review & editing. SM: Writing – review & editing. GD: Methodology, Writing – review & editing. CS: Writing – review & editing, Supervision.

The author(s) declare that no financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: choice-overload, decision-making, choice set complexity, decision task difficulty, decision goal, decision-making tendency

Citation: Misuraca R, Nixon AE, Miceli S, Di Stefano G and Scaffidi Abbate C (2024) On the advantages and disadvantages of choice: future research directions in choice overload and its moderators. Front. Psychol . 15:1290359. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1290359

Received: 07 September 2023; Accepted: 24 April 2024; Published: 09 May 2024.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2024 Misuraca, Nixon, Miceli, Di Stefano and Scaffidi Abbate. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Raffaella Misuraca, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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