In today’s information society, we require a prompt and accurate flow of information on our population’s needs, behaviors and preferences. This critical need for constant information on the part of governments, businesses and social institutions is exactly the reason why we place so much dependence on surveys.
Nowadays the term “survey” is often used to describe a method of gathering information — via email, telephone or in-person — from a group of individuals, which often makes up just a fraction of the population being studied.
Unlike a census, where all members of the population are studied, surveys gather information from only a portion of the targeted audience. And most surveys are not public opinion polls; rather, they are directed toward a specific administrative, commercial or scientific purpose.
Surveys provide an important source of basic knowledge, with economists, psychologists, health professionals, political scientists and sociologists conducting surveys to study such matters as income and expenditure patterns among households, the roots of ethnic and racial prejudice, the implication of health problems and voting behavior, etc.
A survey can be administered in two ways, either as a structured interview, during which a researcher asks each question directly, or as a questionnaire, which the participant fills out on his or her own. Regardless of the format, all surveys are standardized to ensure that they are valid and reliable, and so that the results can be generalized to the larger population.
Surveys have become a critical way for us to gather information and data for a variety of research and analysis, ultimately leading to better planning and decision-making.