Surveying Basics: The Right Way to Reach Respondents

Surveying Basics: The Right Way to Reach Respondents

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Getting people to take your survey is no small task. There are distractions all around us, and competing for someone’s time and attention is a strategic endeavor. The best way to stand out from the noise is to meet them in a space that is accessible and familiar to them.

To get good data – or any data, for that matter – people must first take your survey. What is the trick to getting people to take your survey? Meet them on their turf. Whether online, over the phone, or in person, your goal is to make your survey easy and accessible for your respondents.

What follows below are the four most prevalent types of surveys and the pros and cons of each.

Online/Web Surveys

We live in a tech-focused world, so it’s not surprising that online surveys are the preferred – and often default – method of facilitating a survey.


  • You can reach people anywhere in the world, giving them the freedom to complete the survey at their convenience.
  • You can ask complex questions in ways that are easy to comprehend and answer.
  • Survey logic enhances the respondent experience; only the most relevant questions will be shown to respondents based on their answers to previous questions.
  • Data collection and analysis happens in a structured and automated way, significantly improving the efficiency for you as the survey facilitator.
  • As it happens, this is also the least expensive way to run a survey!


  • Online surveys can easily get buried among the other surveys, emails, and messages vying for your respondent’s attention.
  • When you do succeed in getting through, respondents are more likely to be distracted by other apps and messages coming through on their devices.
  • Certain populations are not easily reached through online surveys. The internet is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean everyone uses it in their daily lives. Some don’t use it at all – like my grandmother, for instance. Then there are those who systematically don’t have access to their email or internet connections – think offshore oil drillers.

Phone Surveys

In the ways that online surveys can fall short, phone surveys are surprisingly effective. Phone surveys are still facilitated by an online survey platform, but in this case, a call representative uses a script to talk a respondent through the survey and collect their responses digitally.


  • Nearly everyone is accessible in some way, if not by their computer, then likely via phone.
  • Phone surveys still benefit from having structured data and automated analysis.
  • These surveys can reach different populations. When run in conjunction with online surveys, phone surveys can help you smooth out sample biases inherent to each method.
  • Phone surveys reach a middle ground of capturing a respondent’s undivided attention. In this respect, they are more effective than online surveys, though not as good as in-person surveys.


  • They’re more expensive to administer than online surveys.
  • Phone surveys take longer to complete because the call representative must read the question to the respondent.
  • Questions must be basic; respondents may find it difficult to keep the question – as well as all answer choices – in mind.

In-Person Surveys

Used most prevalently in academic and clinical settings, in-person surveys still benefit from technology, but they add a more human element that can elicit a deeper level of connection and, subsequently, a deeper level of insight from those taking the survey.


  • In-person surveys are the most effective method for capturing respondents’ undivided attention – there’s nothing else to distract them during the survey.
  • They can foster a rapport between the facilitator and the respondent, which can bring out information that wouldn’t otherwise come out in a more anonymous form.


  • In-person surveys are more susceptible to social bias, meaning respondents may provide answers to sensitive topics that better align with social norms rather than their most honest answer. One of the more classic examples is that people will systematically underreport the number of alcoholic drinks they have per week.
  • Travel is often required for respondents, so scheduling difficulties may arise.

Paper Surveys

While not as prevalent as they once were, paper surveys are worth mentioning because they’re the progenitor of current formal survey methods.


  • Paper surveys can go where computers and phones cannot, or where internet reception is poor or nonexistent.
  • These surveys are great for field research.


  • Logic can be difficult for the facilitator to implement and difficult for the respondent to follow.
  • Aggregating the data is a manual and labor-intensive task.
  • Most people don’t like writing out their answers, so questionnaires should limit the number of open text questions.
  • Completing paper surveys is time-consuming.

Most surveys conducted within the corporate environment will either be online or phone surveys. When choosing the best contact method for your next survey, consider the unique traits and habits of your target population, weigh the pros and cons of each survey method, then meet your respondents in their preferred environments – the uptick in your response rates might just surprise you.

Check out the other articles in our Survey Series:

About Will Mellor

Will Mellor leads a team of accomplished project managers who serve financial services firms across North America. His team manages end-to-end survey delivery from first draft to final deliverable. Will is an expert on GLG’s internal membership and consumer populations, as well as survey design and research. Before coming to GLG, he was the VP of an economic consulting group, where he was responsible for designing economic impact models for clients in both the public and private sectors. Will has bachelor’s degrees in international business and finance and a master’s degree in applied economics.

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