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Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS996

Choosing a Data Collection Method for Survey Research

  • Keith Diem, Program Leader in Educational Design

There are several methods that can be considered to collect data in survey research. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The choice will depend upon the type and size of the audience being studied, the purpose of the study, timeline, budget and staff available, etc. This fact sheet provides information to help make the appropriate choice of data collection method for survey research and evaluation.

Mailed Survey

This method uses a printed questionnaire that is mailed or delivered to respondents and permits them to respond at will and return the survey via mail.


  • Requires minimum staff to prepare & mail
  • Relatively inexpensive


Telephone Survey

This method involves calling respondents via telephone, typically on a spontaneous (as perceived by the respondent) basis, although it can also be done via scheduled appointment in consideration of the respondent's schedule. It is also possible to use an automated system where users reply via touch-tone telephone to a computer-based interview system.


  • Quick response possible
  • Can be inexpensive if dialing is local and staff/volunteers are available


Note: Language barrier could affect any method

Personal Interview (face-to-face)

This method employs an interviewer who meets in-person with respondents either spontaneously (such as in a public place) or via scheduled appointment.


  • Quick response possible
  • Interviews can be done in one location
  • Face-to-face contact offers personal element, trust
  • Can interview groups of people (eg. families) at one time
  • Can reach inaccessible audiences


Web-based Survey

This method involves posting a questionnaire on a web site, with respondents typically replying from individual computers remotely, although computers can also be set up at a central interview site.


  • Quick response possible
  • Can be inexpensive if web server, web designer, and software are available
  • Web software can tally, summarize response data
  • Postage is reduced or eliminated
  • Easy for respondents to reply



Choose the method that is most appropriate for your audience and the type of information to be collected. Also, consider the possible ramifications of "self-administered" questionnaires versus interviewer-directed. Will the influences or knowledge of other individuals affect the responses of subjects completing questionnaires? Will disregard of the survey or misunderstanding of questions occur? Ultimately, the decision of data collection method will take into account all of these considerations, balanced with budget and efficiency concerns. Furthermore, using a combination of methods is a possibility, especially when using a second method (such as telephone interviewing) to follow-up with nonrespondents of the initial method (such as a mailed questionnaire).


  1. Bradburn, and Seymour Sudman, eds. 1982. Asking Questions. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Inc., Publishers.
  2. Dillman, Don A. 1978. Mail and Telephone Surveys. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension Program Evaluation Resources web page
This page provides information and links to other resources that will help you design and evaluate educational programs.

February 2002