From surveys to online surveys

Over time, markets around the world have expanded, becoming more and more competitive. Therefore, it can be quite difficult for them to stand out from the clutter. Starting from this fact, companies were somehow forced to develop a business plan that would meet certain objectives.


Taking a short trip in history, we discovered that opinion polls date back to the 1930s, when the application of probability sampling was born. After that, surveys became a standard method of empirical research used in different fields, such as marketing, social sciences, and official statistics. Traditionally, a survey is a method of gathering information from a sample of people, with the intention of generalizing the results to a larger population.


As companies have developed, they have come to communicate a lot with their clients, or potential clients, thus taking into account their wishes. With the advent of the Internet, things have become simpler. But it wasn’t always like this. The methods used to collect information changed a lot until now; first we had traditional paper-and-pencil interviewing (known as PAPI), then computer-assisted interviewing (known as CAI). Now, face-to-face surveys (CAPI), telephone surveys (CATI), and mail surveys (CASI, CSAQ) are increasingly replaced by web surveys.

For those who are not familiar with the subject, an online survey is quite similar to a classic one, but with a few more benefits. Normally, this type of questionnaire is sent out to a number of people that completes it over the internet through a filling out form. Once finished, the answers are stored in a database and later on analyzed by a software in order to provide specific information.


According to ESOMAR, online survey research accounted for 20% of global data-collection expenditure in 2006. They offer capabilities beyond those available for any other type of self-administered questionnaire.Online consumer panels are also used extensively for carrying out surveys but the quality is considered inferior because the panelists are regular contributors and tend to be fatigued. However, when estimating the measurement quality (defined as product of reliability and validity) using a multitrait-mutlimethod approach (MTMM), some studies found a quite reasonable quality and even that the quality of a series of questions in an online opt-in panel (Netquest) was very similar to the measurement quality for the same questions asked in the European Social Survey (ESS), which is a face-to-face survey.


Some studies have compared the quality of face-to-face surveys and/or telephone surveys with that of online surveys, for single questions, but also for more complex concepts measured with more than one question (also called Composite Scores or Index). Focusing only on probability-based surveys (also for the online ones), they found overall that the face-to-face (using show-cards) and web surveys have quite similar levels of measurement quality, whereas the telephone surveys were performing worse. Other studies comparing paper-and-pencil questionnaires with web-based questionnaires showed that employees preferred online survey approaches to the paper-and-pencil format. There are also concerns about what has been called "ballot stuffing" in which employees make repeated responses to the same survey. Some employees are also concerned about privacy. Even if they do not provide their names when responding to a company survey, can they be certain that their anonymity is protected? Such fears prevent some employees from expressing an opinion.


In spite of some concerns, there are more than enough benefits when conducting an online survey:

- the entire data collection period is significantly shortened, as all data can be collected and processed in little more than a month

- interaction between the respondent and the questionnaire is more dynamic compared to e-mail or paper surveys. Online surveys are also less intrusive, and they suffer less from social desirability effects.

- reduced costs of gathering opinions

- pop-up instructions can be provided where assistance is required

- they can be tailored to the situation

- no more paper waste

Given these facts, we could say that ever since its inception, technology has simplified many activities for us, making life a lot easier. The transition from the classic to the modern format, made with the help of specialized software and programs, has offered huge support to companies. If in the past, the emergence of a new product could not have been "tested" before, now this is possible due to these online surveys. Each business has personalized this service in its own style, some of them even offering rewards to those dedicated and willing to share their opinions whenever the need requires.


Now we can definitely admit that surveys have come a long way, ever since their first appearance in history. We think that they just might be the most effective method of collecting a set of data, in a short period of time and with a little less effort.

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