Need to do some market research? Then chances are, you’ll want to conduct a survey. Or, maybe distribute a questionnaire. Better yet, maybe you should just take a poll. Scratching your head yet? It’s not surprising! Many people tend to use these three words interchangeably, when in fact each is unique in some way.
Survey vs. Questionnaire vs. Poll: What’s the Difference?
To understand the differences between surveys, questionnaires, and polls, it’s best to first provide a definition. Then, we’ll look at when you should use a survey vs questionnaire vs poll, and take a look at some examples.
A survey is a sophisticated data collection method that uses a questionnaire to gather data from a set of respondents (that’s right, a survey requires a questionnaire, but a questionnaire is not a survey; a questionnaire is just a tool of the survey). Countless surveys are conducted every year: Government surveys, marketing surveys, demographic surveys, employer surveys, and more. A well-designed and thought-out survey provides researchers and organizations with insight into their target audience. Surveys also offer flexibility in their length, question style, and more (this makes them very different from polls, which we’ll cover in a minute). Of course, the biggest distinction of surveys is analysis. Surveys aren’t just a series of questions you ask and put aside. After conducting a survey, an analysis of the questions looks for trends, behavior patterns, forecasting, and so on. This is why you use a survey vs questionnaire in research.
As previously mentioned, a questionnaire is part of a survey, hence the misuse of words. The main distinction between a survey vs a questionnaire is that while a survey asks questions, it also involves collecting and analyzing the data. a questionnaire is simply any set of written questions. A questionnaire is not concerned with delivery methods and especially statistical analysis; it’s more for collecting standalone information. To that end, collecting precise or legitimate responses from respondents is not a top priority. Think of it this way: a questionnaire is just content; a survey is the content, method of delivery, and analysis of responses.
A poll is a type of survey that asks one simple question of respondents. Because polls are limited to one question (although, some pollsters sneak in one or two follow-up questions), it won’t collect demographic information and other details. Polls are generally multiple-choice questions that ask the public important questions – or frivolous questions. It all depends on the poll. Of course, because there’s only one question, analysis is very easy!
Types of Surveys, Questionnaires, and Polls and When You Should Them
When is it appropriate to use a survey, questionnaire, or poll? We break it down for you!
Using a Survey + Types of Survey Questions
Surveys should be used to collect in-depth feedback from respondents. They allow researchers and marketers to collect data from respondents to analyze in order to achieve goals or gain insight. As mentioned, survey questions are very flexible; you can collect quantitative and qualitative data, and ask questions in a wide variety of ways. Here are some of the most popular types of survey questions.
- Multiple choice questions. This provides respondents with multiple answers.
- Rating scale questions: These surveys may use stars, A-F grading, thumbs up/down, etc.
- Likert scale questions: Questions with a range of answers (usually 5-7 points, such as strongly agree/agree/neither agree nor disagree/disagree/strongly disagree).
- Matrix questions: These typically consist of a column of questions to the left and a row of answers across the top. SurveyLegend has created a unique type of matrix survey designed to improve response by making respondents scroll with every answer. Learn more here.
- Dropdown questions: Click the answer box and a drop-down menu appears, allowing you to select your answer (a birth year is a common demographic dropdown).
- Open-ended questions: Questions that allow participants to write in their answers.
- Demographic questions: Age, gender, education level, etc.
- Ranking questions: These ask the participant to rank things in order of preference.
- Image choice questions: Answers are a series of images from which to choose.
- Slider questions: These allow participants to slide a bar across a scale, such as 1-10.
Using a Questionnaire + Types of Questionnaire Questions
Questionnaires capture standalone information. They are limited in scope, and aren’t all that sophisticated; after all, they’re not going to be used for broader analysis. Questionnaires are often used for building an email list or collecting personal information for lead generation. Let’s say you go to a restaurant and fill out a comment card. It asks your thoughts on service, food quality, and ambiance, and then requests your email address. Chances are, customers’ answers are not being analyzed; instead, the restaurant just wants the ability to email you special offers. Another example of a questionnaire is the form you complete at your doctor’s office asking about your health history and current ailments. Again, these questions aren’t being asked to conduct a larger study on common reasons for visiting the doctor. They’re simply being asked so that the doctor will have an idea of your history and your current condition when he sees you.
Using a Poll + Types of Poll Questions
Polls should be used when you want to get a quick pulse of the public’s opinion. They won’t give you mountains of insight, but they are a fast and easy way to analyze data from a large population. A common example of a poll is a political poll, however in our age of social media, anyone can make one and they tend to pop up all the time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. So, while a poll may be asking important questions (a newspaper poll may ask, “who are you voting for in the upcoming election?”), they’re also used to drive social media engagement (a pizza restaurant may ask, “What is your favorite pizza topping?”). A couple of things to remember about polls:
- Keep things simple. Anyone should understand what you’re asking and how to respond. Save the complex stuff for surveys.
- Limit the multiple-choice options that you offer. options that you offer. If you provide too many, people may not give it much thought or just not answer. Respondents need to be able to make a quick selection and then go about their day.
Despite the words being used interchangeably, surveys, questionnaires, and polls are different animals. Surveys are for research or marketing purposes involving data analysis; questionnaires seek to obtain specific information about a person, with no further analysis involved; and a poll is one simple question that quickly gauges public opinion. Ready to start creating your own survey, questionnaire, or poll? SurveyLegend allows you to easily create all three and has many beautifully pre-designed templates from which to choose. Were you surprised by the differences between surveys vs questionnaires vs polls? Any other distinctions we may have missed? Let us know in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A survey collects data for analysis whereas questionnaires are standalone questions that will not be analyzed (for example, a medical form). A poll asks one question to get a quick public opinion.
A survey always involves a questionnaire; what makes it a survey is the analysis of the results. A questionnaire, however, is not a survey.
Polls are generally one question. However, some pollsters add a couple of follow-up questions. While this provides additional insight, it also complicates analysis and makes things less “quick and easy”.