What are Surveys?

A survey is a way of collecting information that you hope represents the views of the whole community or group in which you are interested.

There are three main ways of going about this:

  • Case study surveys: to collect information from a part of a group or community, without trying to choose them for overall representation of the larger population. Several of these informaiton may be needed before you get a sense of how the larger community would respond to your survey. Case study surveys only provide specific information about the community studied.
  • Sampled surveys: ask a sample portion of a group to answer your questions. If done well, the results for the sample will reflect the results you would have gotten by surveying the entire group. For the sample to accurately represent the larger group, it must be carefully chosen.
  • Census surveys, in which you give your survey questionnaire to every member of the population you want to learn about. This will give you the most accurate information about the group, but it may not be very practical for large groups. A census is best done with smaller groups -- all of the clients of a particular agency, for example, as opposed to all of the citizens of a city.

Surveys are usually written, although sometimes the surveyor reads the questions aloud and writes down the answers for another person; they can be distributed by mail, fax, e-mail, through a web page, or the questions can be asked over the phone or in person (in the street, on a fair, at a seminar...).

Surveys collect information in as uniform a manner as possible -- asking each respondent the same questions in the same way so as to insure that the answers are most influenced by the respondents' experiences, not due to how the interviewer words the questions.