Questionnaire versus Survey

The advice below focuses primarily on questionnaires. Much more detailed advice is given on face to face surveys, how to design surveys, rating answers, coding, surveys in practice

is given on surveysSurveys and questionnaires are a good way of gathering a lot of quantitative and qualitative data from a large or small sample of project participants, beneficiaries and/ or stakeholders. The key difference between surveys and questionnaires are set out below:

Questionnaires versus Surveys

Surveys are the conventional process for carrying out orderly research in which the respondents are questioned, with respect to their behaviour, awareness, motivations, demographics, and other characteristics
Questionnaires are a tool of acquiring data on a specific topic. This involves distributing forms that comprise (ready-made) questions relating to that topic
The term ‘surveys’ encompasses ‘questionnaires’Questionnaires are a sub-set of surveys
Surveys are generally considered to be a time-consuming processQuestionnaires deliver fast results (as long as they remain relatively brief and retain the interest of respondents)
Surveys can be conducted on the whole population (census) or a smaller sample
Questionnaires tend to focus on a smaller sample
Open or closed questionsUsually closed questions

Questionnaires and surveys use ranking/ scoring options and open/ closed questions. They are also useful in theory-based evaluations. They include a series of questions, usually written on paper or a digital form, which are given to a sample of respondents. Click here for guidance on sampling.

If the population is small enough, it may be possible to survey everyone. This is not usually the case. Normally you simply you cannot speak to everyone, measure everything or look at every document. You may only have the time and resources to examine a sample of documents or speak to a sample of project participants. You can then infer from these findings something about the wider population of, for example, a town or region.

Tips on Writing a Questionnaire

Most of the tips below are valid for both questionnaires and surveys. They are largely drawn from The Survey Research Handbook by Pamela Alreck and Robert Settle, should suffice.

  • Do not re-invent the wheel. Scour the internet for similar surveys. You may even find one that covers exactly the same points that you want to raise
  • Keep your questions simple and clear, avoiding long clauses, ambiguity or technical terms
  • Ensure that each question focuses on a single, specific issue
  • Consider writing the questions in the local language and then using a local translator. This can avoid serious misunderstandings
  • Don’t build examples into your questions as these can bias the response
  • Don’t ask questions that require people to remember too much (e.g. how many times they collected firewood last month)
  • Avoid leading questions (Not: ‘Do you think this school is good/ bad?’ but ‘What do you think of this school?’)
  • Avoid encouraging socially acceptable answers (Not: Does your wife/ husband do the cooking?)
  • Be neutral at all times (including in any introductory statements you include within or that you make at the start of the survey)

Further advice on writing and analysing questionnaires and surveys is given here.

When surveying any human respondent and particularly vulnerable adults or children, particular care is needed and you should be particularly alert to ethical guidelines

Illustration of a Questionnaire

An example of a questionnaire, albeit driven from outside the realm of international development, is given below:

Where to next?

To return to the top of this page, click here. To return to step 2 (Data Collection), click here. To find out more about surveys, click here.