What Are the Strengths & Weaknesses of a Survey Study?


Surveys can be conducted using a range of different communication strategies, such as email campaigns, website questionnaires, individual telephone calls or face-to-face interviews. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Internet-based surveys have been growing in popularity over the past decade as more people have access to the Web, according to expert Kevin B. Wright at the University of Oklahoma.

Costs and Flexibility

  • Compared to medical trials or housing simulations, surveys are an inexpensive, straightforward way to reach a range of different locations. They can be carried out by interview, telephone, email or postal mail. Each survey can be tailored to fit the style of the operation, can provide flexibility for the interviewers and can cover several topics at once. Individual questions can be multiple choice; they can be standardization or “open-ended,” allowing fuller explanations or viewpoints.

Sample Sizes and Statistics

  • Equally as important as cost and administration are the reliability and statistical accuracy of the results of any survey. Using indirect mailing and telephone contact, a large sample of the population can be profiled in a short period of time. The statistical significance of the results is usually representative and meaningful, even when the questions take into account many different variables, explains the Web page for Colorado State University's Writer's Center.

Comparative Interpretation

  • One of the most powerful styles of a survey is the “comparative interpretation.” Questions can be structured to differentiate social groups, gender, age groups and ethnicity. When the results are collated, meaningful conclusions can be drawn. A standardized approach works best for inter-group studies because standard questions reduce the level of interpretation, subjectivity and underlying personal views that may arise by discussing certain topics, also described by Colorado State.

Standardization Drawbacks

  • Although standard questions create reliable, large-sample results, there are drawbacks to the method. Standard questions have to be designed to eliminate possible answers that include details about or opinions of the interviewee. This standardization can result in a survey result that misses the important factors affecting a certain group in a certain location. A balance can be created by having standardized questions at the start of the survey, followed by more in-depth, open-ended questions.

Truthfulness and Fairness

  • Compared to undetected observation, a survey relies on the honesty of the individuals completing the answers and the fairness and objectivity within the questions. “Leading” questions are inappropriate, because they tend to suggest one answer is right while another is wrong and can influence the outcome of the survey. Controversial topics, like abortion provisions in a certain location, can result in interviewees holding back their views for many reasons, so those questions must be designed with care.

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