Advantages and Disadvantages of Research Surveys

05 January 2021

There are many different collection methods for gathering research data. Among the research design methods, the use of online surveys has exponentially increased over the years. This blog post will consider the advantages and disadvantages of research surveys as a guide for researchers to determine if surveys are suitable to answer your research question.

Advantages of surveys

1. Easy to design

In comparison to other research data collection methods, surveys are much easier to design and administer. Many survey tools have pre-built survey templates which make it easier to create the survey layout and questions. Even the most complex surveys can be easily programmed with skip patterns and logic, preventing participants from answering questions that may be irrelevant to them.

2. Better accessibility

Due to the online nature of research surveys, this research method is capable of collecting data from a wider range of participants. Online surveys remove the geographical barriers preventing individuals from participating. The survey link can be sent to the participant email address and advertised in various social media platforms, enabling national and international outreach. Given the ease of administration, many participants could complete the surveys via their computer or mobile devices at time and location that is most convenient for them. Online surveys enable researchers to recruit larger samples, thus increasing the validity and generalisability of the results.

3. Real-time data access

The data from survey respondents are stored automatically in an online database, providing real-time access to research data. As long as the survey is designed effectively, data analyses can be completed relatively quickly. This allows researchers to easily analyse and interpret the research results within a short period of time.

Disadvantages of surveys

1. Missing questions

Response rates in surveys can be variable. It is quite common for participants to ignore or skip survey questions. The length and type of questions can impact on the survey completion rates, thus potentially reducing the sample size of the research study. Most researchers minimise the risk of unanswered questions by setting each question as 'required', designing shorter surveys and avoiding complicated questions.

2. Accessibility issues

While online surveys are generally accessible to most individuals, this data collection method may be a limitation for hard-to-reach populations, especially those without access to computerised devices and internet connectivity. Providing different modes of survey administration including traditional methods (i.e., interviews, paper or phone survey) could be considered to increase accessibility to a wider range of participants. Additionally, online surveys may not be an unsuitable mode of delivery for individuals with visual or hearing impairments. It is important to choose a survey platform that has in-built accessibility options for those with vision or hearing difficulties.

3. Respondent bias

Several respondent factors may impact on the quality of the survey data. Due to the anonymity of online surveys, there is a risk that survey respondents may not provide honest answers to protect their privacy. Another potential disadvantage of research survey is social desirability bias. Survey respondents may want to respond based on what they believe is more favourable to the researchers rather than answering based on their perspectives.