What is a survey?

When it comes to data collection — for personal and business use alike — surveying is one of the most effective information-gathering methods available. A survey is a quick and easy tool to get the answers you need — whether you’re asking teachers about their favorite teaching methods or asking baby boomers whether they prefer to shop at Walmart or Target.

But exactly what is a survey? We take a deep dive into the answer below.

FAQs about surveys

Definition of a survey

Put simply, a survey is a structured way to collect information or feedback. But Niles Koenigsberg, digital marketing specialist at FiG Advertising + Marketing, provides this more detailed description: “A survey is a primary research method that samples individuals of a population segment to collect data and gain information.”

“This research method ultimately provides insights on a given topic,” he continues, “usually for the benefit of a business to help it identify areas of improvement, unknown shortcomings, and potential threats.”

For example, from an external perspective, a survey can be used to collect information from customers, such as their opinions on a service or product they recently used. Internally, a survey can be used to collect feedback from employees and other key stakeholders, perhaps regarding their satisfaction with recent or upcoming company changes or other internal happenings.

Pro Tip

Need to collect feedback through your website? Learn how to create a survey, customize it, and embed it using JotForm.

What is the purpose of a survey?

The primary purpose of a survey is to gather information through a systematic, scientific process. For example, Sarkis Hakopdjanian, director of strategy at The Business Clinic, says that many business owners make assumptions about their customers.

They assume they know who customers are, what their needs are, what they like, what they don’t like, why they chose to purchase specific products/services, and so on. “Sometimes these assumptions are right, but often they’re wrong. Instead of guessing, [companies] can use surveys to get real data they can use to make more informed decisions about their business,” Hakopdjanian says.

Survey expert Trevor Wolfe, CEO of BigTeam, provides additional insight: “Surveys are intended to reduce the amount of bias and subjectivity in the way humans provide and request feedback…. Surveys also offer a convenient way to aggregate results and spot trends.”

Pro Tip

Build the structure your survey needs to get high-quality responses with Jotform’s customizable survey templates. Try one today!

What are the components of a survey?

While all surveys are not created equal, they do tend to have several common components:

  • An invitation, which briefly summarizes what the survey entails and about how long it should take to complete
  • An introduction, which outlines what the survey is about and provides any additional context, instructions, and disclaimers the participant needs to know
  • A set of screening questions, which help narrow down the pool of participants and improve the quality of survey responses
  • A set of screening responses, which are provided by participants and used to determine their eligibility for answering the survey questions
  • A set of survey questions, which prompt participants for the information you’re seeking
  • A set of survey responses, which are provided by participants and correspond with the survey questions
  • A confirmation, which informs participants that the survey is complete; this may be in the form of a person-to-person interaction (for in-person surveys) or a final thank-you page (for digital surveys)

How are surveys typically conducted?

Surveys can be conducted in the field with pen and paper or via mobile devices like tablets. This method can be difficult because you’re limited to surveying people who are physically present. You may also face a lot of rejection from people who aren’t willing to participate in a survey at the moment.

Another common way of conducting surveys is with online tools like Jotform, Google Forms, and SurveyMonkey. Distribution is typically easier with this method as you can reach just about anyone who has a computer (or a mobile device) and an internet connection, especially if you use a paid service to increase your reach.

Now that you’re in the know about surveys, it’s time to build one. Check out these easy-to-use survey templates to get started. For further reading, please refer to Jotform’s How to Create a Survey guide.

This article is originally published on Jun 12, 2019, and updated on Jul 10, 2023.

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