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Choosing a Survey Method – Which Mode of Collection is Best for You?

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Survey Data Collection Methods

So, you want to collect survey data. Which survey method should you choose? Before you make a decision, learn a little more about the different research methods used to gather survey data and find one that best aligns with your goals and objectives.

While all modes of collection are valuable, each one has its own set of unique advantages and disadvantages. As we dive into the various vehicles available to deploy your research project, you can compare the pros and cons of each survey method in order to make an informed decision on the direction of your research project.

Online Surveys

Advancements in technology have altered the way humans interact every day, and the ever-evolving research industry is always working to keep up with trends and changes in order to seamlessly integrate into the spaces our target audiences already are. The only requirements that respondents need to meet are internet access, 10 minutes of time, and a willingness to participate. Because of this, online surveys have quickly become one of the most popular modes of collection worldwide.

Are Online Surveys Trustworthy? Short answer: Yes Long answer: Still yes, but for further explanation, click here to learn more

In light of the lasting effects of the global pandemic, contactless options and virtual communications are more common and preferred than ever. This aspect of online surveys has proven to be a key benefit of this method over others.


1. Efficient

  • The time it takes to collect your minimum goal of completed surveys online is substantially lower than other methods thanks to the speed and reach of the worldwide web.

  • Limited internal energy is spent in the fielding stage since respondents can take the survey on their own and in their own time – you simply sit back and watch the completes roll in.

2. Number of questions

  • Because it is so much quicker for respondents to read and respond to questions via online surveys, this collection method allows for more questions to be included in the survey while still remaining within your intended LOI (length of interview).

3. Cost-effective

  • With no need for interviewers or physical assets, the cost of online surveys is often lower than other methods.

4. Expanded reach

  • There are very few limitations to the populations you can reach with online surveys – anyone with internet access who is willing to participate can potentially be reached with online surveys.

  • This also allows for larger sample sizes and more opportunities to target subgroups and segment by key demographics, geographics, and psychographics.

5. Quick results

  • Results of completed surveys are received immediately, allowing for lightning-fast turnaround.


1. Oversaturation

  • Inboxes are often inundated with influxes of requests to take online surveys frequently which contributes to survey fatigue. People are busy, and sometimes online surveys do not make the priority list.

2. Skepticism

  • With the rise of frequent and more intelligent scams, people can become hesitant to click links or submit responses to unknown contacts. Because of this, details like distribution methods/sources and messaging are key considerations with online surveys.

Phone Surveys

Perhaps the middle ground between in-person surveys and online surveys, phone surveys come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. The only requirements of respondents for this mode of collection are a reachable phone number (call and/or text), 5-20 minutes of time, and willingness to participate. For researchers, interviewers and data entry software are required for this survey type. Collection via phone surveys can be categorized as Live Caller or Peer-to-Peer Text. With Live Caller surveys, the interviewer(s) reads from a script of the survey questions and records responses in a data entry software. In Peer-to-Peer Text surveys, the interviewer follows a script to hold a live conversation with the respondent via text, sending questions and receiving responses one by one, then inputting responses into a data entry software.


1. Relatively easy and fast access to large pools of respondents

  • Most people in the U.S. have a reachable phone number. Interviewers can call or text numbers until their desired sample quota has been met.

2. More involved responses (Live Caller)

  • A live conversation allows for interviewers and respondents to ask for clarification on open-ended or confusing questions/responses and can result in more detailed and accurate responses.

3. Efficient

  • While the fieldwork of phone surveys is more involved than online surveys, this method is still a very time-effective route for larger-scale data collection compared to in-person and direct mail surveys.

4. The human element

  • Speaking with a real person on the phone (call or text) encourages respondents to answer all survey questions completely and honestly.


1. Cost

  • Live caller surveys are the most expensive way to conduct survey research, next to Focus Groups.

2. Limited capabilities

  • Visual components like images, video, or even written question verbiage are ONLY compatible with Peer-to-Peer Text when the sender and recipient are able to use MMS (multimedia messaging services). Only audio capabilities are available with Live Caller surveys.

  • Peer-to-Peer Text, specifically, has a limited length of interview of about 10.5 minutes at a maximum, which hinders the ability to ask many open-ended questions with this mode of collection.

3. Can be intrusive

  • Collection can be challenging at times with phone surveys, as most are conducted without notice as “cold calls.” Interviewers can be perceived as telemarketers and lose respondents because of it.

  • Researchers must be strategic about the time and length of the phone interview.

In-Person Surveys / Interviews

While the time and cost associated with face-to-face interviews can be unattractive to some researchers, the unique value that only in-person methods can provide can be well worth it, depending on the objectives of the research project. This more traditional vehicle of collection has also evolved with the progression of technology in recent years. Face-to-face surveys can take place the old-fashioned way, in a shared physical location, or they can be held virtually via video call. Though it comes with more complications and bases to cover, hybrid interviews are also a possible method of collection.


1. The human element

  • Face-to-face surveys are uniquely the only mode of collection that can capture qualitative data on verbal and non-verbal cues.

  • Access to all 5 senses broadens what you can test in these interviews.

  • Interviewers and moderators can smoothly control the ebb and flow of the conversation, addressing sensitivities and mitigating challenges in real time.

2. In-depth discussion

  • Speaking with a person or a group face-to-face fosters trust and encourages honesty and clarity in responses, often resulting in open-ended and well-rounded discussions.

  • Clarification on survey questions can be provided by the interviewer to solve any confusion or give additional context in real time.

3. Supplementary materials

  • Physical assets like products, documents, images, videos, etc. can be shown at any time throughout the interview to supplement or guide the discussion.

  • In-person surveys also allow for in-the-moment access to supplementary resources, such as looking up background information or confirming definitions, calling a colleague or other resource, or – perhaps the most valuable resource – extra time for respondents to consider their answers.


1. Cost – time and money

  • In-person interviews require a larger amount of time and money than other survey methods. Researchers must be prepared to spend time and money for the interviewer/moderator, a physical location, any incentives for participants, travel, and organizing the interview(s).

2. Dependence on the interviewer/moderator

  • In short, the quality of the data collected in this survey method is largely dependent on the training, skill, and experience of the interviewer/moderator. Selecting a talented and reputable professional for this position is crucial to the success of the in-person survey.

Direct Mail Surveys

First and foremost, even with the rise in technological advancements and alternative survey methods, direct mail surveys are not obsolete. This mode of collection still holds value for researchers in more niche circumstances that look to target a postal geographic region or capture responses from people who are less likely to be reached via phone or email. The key factor to consider when conducting a direct mail survey: the subject has to be compelling enough to earn the time and effort it takes to complete and return a written survey through the mail.


1. Cost-effective

  • This method is less expensive than in-person or phone surveys.

2. Encourages honesty

  • Compared to other modes, direct mail surveys earn trust more easily than online and phone methods, which in turn tends to reap more honest responses.

3. Less competition than email

  • There are far fewer companies asking for survey responses in people’s mailboxes than in their inboxes.

4. Physical survey

  • It takes less than a second to delete an email or reject a call. Sifting through physical mail garners more attention and increases the likelihood that, even if the survey is not completed and returned, people are spending a little more time looking at a logo, name, or reading more about the survey.


1. Turnaround time

  • While respondents have more time to answer (which often results in more accurate and honest data), collecting the desired amount of completed surveys takes more time than other modes of collection.

2. Manual data entry

  • Written responses from direct mail surveys must be individually manually entered into a data entry software, a time-consuming and tedious task.

3. Incomplete or inaccurate responses

  • Any confusion or questions from respondents cannot be addressed and leaves more room for skipped questions or unusable responses.

At NPI, we deeply understand the crucial component of human response and work to share its complexities. What it comes down to is people who are passionate about meaningful data and motivated by truth - characteristics that can be found in each and every Noble Predictive Insights team member.

If you are curious about survey research, schedule a meeting with us or give us a quick call at 602-362-5694 so we can help you take the first steps toward a data-driven strategy.

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