A common way to break down types of survey research is by looking at the way the survey is conducted. Surveys may be administered on paper, orally, or electronically. The format depends on what the commissioner of the survey desires, and the price or time they are willing to spend. Some types of surveys may get a better response rate than others, and thus factor into the decision-making process.
Paper surveys are very popular, especially when conducting market research where the forms can be handed out instead of mailed. Often a paper survey will provide a list of multiple choice answers. In some cases, they may ask the respondent to fill out short answers to a number of questions as well. Multiple choice answers are often preferred because they are easier to process.
Comment cards at restaurants and the US Census are two common forms of paper surveys. Though the comment cards provide a spot for a specific complaint or observation, they are also valuable for collecting information about a particular restaurant and the system as a whole. This is where they provide true value to the company. The US Census survey is another well known paper survey, but it is only done once a decade. Paper surveys are cheap, but response rates are often very poor, especially if no incentive is offered to the respondents.
Electronic survey research is done through two major mediums, the Internet and the telephone. Telephone surveys are considered electronic if they do not actually involve any human-to-human contact. Rather, a voice system does the calling and interacts with the individual on the other end of the line. The respondent replies usually by pressing a touch tone number on the phone's dial pad.
Online survey research offers a printed survey in electronic form. The interface used is often a simple point-and-click approach, with which Internet users are already very familiar. Both online and telephone surveys can offer the flexibility to change the next question based on the respondent's answer. Utilizing this strategy offers the chance at more complete picture.
Oral survey research involves using a live person to administer questions to another person. This may be done in person or over the phone. The results may be recorded on a paper form or using an electronic device of some sort. Some benefits to oral survey research include the fact the surveyor has the ability to seek more respondents and can clarify questions, if necessary. Further, like online surveys, the questions can be fine tuned to the respondent based on the answers received.
Often, a combination of survey research methods are used. For example, a political party may use telephone, Internet, and face-to-face surveys in order to get a feel for the political climate. Using more than one method represents a chance to get a broad variety of people's opinions. While this may be effective, the time and cost of multiple methods may be prohibitive to some organizations.