When to Use Surveys in Psychological Research

Filling out a survey
PeopleImages/Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

A survey is a data collection tool used to gather information about individuals. Surveys are commonly used in psychology research to collect self-report data from study participants. A survey may focus on factual information about individuals, or it might aim to obtain the opinions of the survey takers.

So why do psychologists opt to use surveys so often in psychology research?

Surveys are one of the most commonly used research tools because they can be utilized to collect data and describe naturally occurring phenomena that exist in the real world.

They offer researchers a way to collect a great deal of information in a relatively quick and easy way. A large number of responses can be obtained quite quickly, which allows scientists to work with a lot of data.

Survey Use

A survey can be used to investigate the characteristics, behaviors, or opinions of a group of people. These research tools can be used to ask questions about demographic information about characteristics such as sex, religion, ethnicity, and income.

They can also collect information on experiences, opinions, and even hypothetical scenarios. For example, researchers might present people with a possible scenario and then ask them how they might respond in that situation.

How do researchers go about collecting information using surveys?

A survey can be administered in a couple of different ways. In one method known as a structured interview, the researcher asks each participant with the questions. In the other method known as a questionnaire, the participant fills out the survey on his or her own.

You have probably taken many different surveys in the past, although the questionnaire method tends to be the most common.

Surveys are generally standardized to ensure that they have reliability and validity. Standardization is also important so that the results can be generalized to the larger population.


One of the big benefits of using surveys in psychological research is that they allow researchers to gather a large quantity of data relatively quickly and cheaply. A survey can be administered as a structured interview or as a self-report measure, and data can be collected in person, over the phone, or on a computer.

  • Surveys allow researchers to collect a large amount of data in a relatively short period.
  • Surveys are less expensive than many other data collection techniques.
  • Surveys can be created quickly and administered easily.
  • Surveys can be used to collect information on a broad range of things, including personal facts, attitudes, past behaviors, and opinions.


One potential problem with written surveys is the nonresponse bias. Experts suggest that return rates of 85 percent or higher are considered excellent, but anything below 60 percent might have a severe impact on the representativeness of the sample.

  • Poor survey construction and administration can undermine otherwise well-designed studies.
  • The answer choices provided in a survey may not be an accurate reflection of how the participants actually feel.
  • While random sampling is generally used to select participants, response rates can bias the results of a survey.
  • The social desirability bias can lead people to respond in a way that makes them look better than they really are. For example, a respondent might report that they engage in more healthy behaviors than they do in real life.
  • Efficient

  • Less expensive

  • Easy to create and administer

  • Diverse uses

  • Subject to nonresponse bias

  • May be poorly designed

  • Limited answer choices can influence results

  • Subject to social desirability bias

Types of Surveys

Surveys can be implemented in a number of different ways. The chances are good that you have participated in a number of different market research surveys in the past.

Some of the most common ways to administer surveys include:

  • Mail — An example might include an alumni survey distributed via direct mail by your alma mater.
  • Telephone — An example of a telephone survey would be a market research call about your experiences with a certain consumer product.
  • Online — Online surveys might focus on your experience with a particular retailer, product, or website.
  • At home interviews — The U.S. Census is a good example of an at-home interview survey administration.
6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Science Foundation. Directorate for Education and Human Resources Division of Research, Evaluation and Communication. The 2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation. Section III. An Overview of Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection Methods. 5. Data collection methods: Some tips and comparisons. Arlington, Va.: The National Science Foundation, 2002.

  2. Jones TL, Baxter MA, Khanduja V. A quick guide to survey research. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2013;95(1):5-7. doi:10.1308/003588413X13511609956372

  3. Finkel EJ, Eastwick PW, Reis HT. Best research practices in psychology: Illustrating epistemological and pragmatic considerations with the case of relationship science. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015;108(2):275-97. doi:10.1037/pspi0000007

  4. Harris LR, Brown GTL. Mixing interview and questionnaire methods: Practical problems in aligning data. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. 2010;15 (1). doi:10.7275/959j-ky83

  5. Fincham JE. Response rates and responsiveness for surveys, standards, and the Journal. Am J Pharm Educ. 2008;72(2):43. doi:10.5688/aj720243

  6. Latkin CA, Mai NV, Ha TV, et al. Social desirability response bias and other factors that may influence self-reports of substance use and HIV risk behaviors: A qualitative study of drug users in Vietnam. AIDS Educ Prev. 2016;28(5):417-425. doi:10.1521/aeap.2016.28.5.417

Additional Reading
  • Coon D, Mitterer J. Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning; 2010

  • Goodwin CJ. Research in Psychology: Methods and Design. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons; 2010

  • Nicholas L.. Introduction to Psychology. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd; 2008

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.