The Difference Between Surveys and Questionnaires

Before you launch your online survey, you may wonder what the difference is between it and a questionnaire. You are not alone in this question! Many researchers, even those very experienced, sometimes use the words interchangeably.

So which word should be used and when? Surveys and questionnaires can be similar research methods, but their differences are essential to understand and recognize. 

The primary difference between surveys and questionnaires is that a survey is a research method used to evaluate the opinions of a group of predefined individuals. In contrast, a questionnaire is a question set that forms the basis of a survey not usually used for gathering data or analyzing statistics. 

This article will further explore the differences between surveys and questionnaires and other specific questions related to qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Survey vs. Questionnaire: What’s the Difference?

So now you understand that while surveys and questionnaires are similar, they are not the same. A survey is always made up of a questionnaire, but not all questionnaires are surveys.

Surveys are made up of questions that are used to collect data to forecast/predict trends. Surveys have questionnaires but also collect, aggregate, and analyze the responses to those questions. However, questionnaires are always just a collection of questions and may not always be delivered as a survey. 

Here is a breakdown further comparing the similarities and differences between a questionnaire and a survey:

  Questionnaire Survey
Meaning A set of questions for collecting information A fielding methodology that gains insights from a specific audience
What is it? A data collection tool A data collection process
Characteristics Part of a survey Includes a questionnaire but also considers survey design, sampling, fielding, and data collection
Time and Cost Fast and more cost-sensitive  Can be expensive and require a longer time to complete
Use Conducted to a larger audience Distributed to and conducted on respondents, whether through promotion or paid acquisition. 
Questions More typically close-ended  Commonly includes a combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions
Answers Objective Can be both subjective or objective


Is a Survey Qualitative or Quantitative?

As we discuss different types of questionnaires and surveys, it is vital to also understand the differences between qualitative and quantitative research. Both questionnaires and surveys can be used qualitative and quantitatively.

Qualitative: Used primarily through opened-ended responses with a small but highly validated sample size. Questionnaires that use qualitative research methods or in-person interviews can go into deep discussion and analysis of topics, giving researchers a fuller scope of understanding of their research topic. This can include online forums, focus groups for customer feedback, online communities, and more. 

  • Qualitative data can be gathered through unstructured questionnaires that use a basic structure to start but have branching questions that do not limit the responses from a respondent.

Quantitative: Asking direct questions to a specific target audience through an organized and precise methodology. The collected data measuring perceptions and satisfaction is used to improve businesses’ products, messaging, and services. This includes polls, surveys, survey questionnaires, and more.

  • Quantitative data can be gleaned through structured questionnaires that are designed to collect precise information to validate or disprove a prior hypothesis.


What Are The Types of Questionnaire Questions?

The types of questions used in survey research can include

Close-ended questions: Questions that only allow responses from a predetermined list of answers. This can consist of true/false questions, multiple-choice, sliding scales, ranking, ratings, and more. This enables participants to answer quickly and unbiasedly and makes it easier for researchers to quantify and analyze.

Opened-ended questions: Questions that cannot be answered through predetermined answer choices and requires participants to write more elaborate responses. This can include suggestions for survey improvements, free-verse comments on products or events, and satisfaction. Even though these question types will take longer to answer, they are more in-depth and provide a complete analysis.


Types of Questionnaires

Different types of questionnaires can serve different purposes, depending on the type of questions a researcher needs to be answered. These can include:

Customer Satisfaction Questionnaire: To gauge the satisfaction of a customer after interacting or having an experience with an organization. Ex: Measure the satisfaction of your last theme park visit, including services, food, and ride wait times.  

Product Use Satisfaction Questionnaire: To gauge the satisfaction of a customer after using a product to better understand a product or related product trends. This can help businesses predict what will be successful in the future and what audiences want to see on the market.

Communications Evaluation Questionnaire: To gauge the effectiveness of both internal and external business communication. This lets business leaders know if policies are being carried out for employees and clients.


What is an Advantage of a Research Questionnaire?

  • With a questionnaire, researchers can gather large amounts of information from a large pool of segmented respondents in less time. They can send out manual or automated messaging to start collecting responses with a link to their survey.
  • Through a structured set of questions, researchers can eliminate potential bias and more accurately allow for trend tracking/historical data comparisons. Data is easy to analyze and compare, lending to easy visualization and application.
  • Participants can answer without revealing personal data, so questionnaires comply with data and privacy regulations.
  • Through specifically online distribution methods, questionnaires can be quick and cost-effective to run.


What is a Disadvantage of a Research Questionnaire?

  • People can provide dishonest, random answers to questions, skip parts of the questionnaire or drop out altogether, leading to wrong or incomplete data. Especially if question sets are longer, participants have the potential to get tired, select sporadic answers, and rush to finish.
  • Participants can get confused and answer questions incorrectly because they are too nuanced, there is a cultural disconnect, or they misconstrued the language.
  • Questionnaires may not be entirely representative due to accessibility issues, such as access to the internet.
  • Fraudsters manipulate online surveys to trick the system for their financial gain, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The PureSpectrum PureScore™ system has advanced data quality methods to preserve our client’s data. 

Questionnaire Design

Effective questionnaire design is vital for gathering usable and cohesive data from target markets. In order to ensure that the collected responses are the most accurate they can be, everything from the material covered to question wording must be taken into consideration.

Ensure survey topic clarity. It is important to know exactly what the questionnaire will be covering and what its intended purpose is.

Keep question-wording as simple as possible. Questions must be straightforward and easy to understand or respondents may misunderstand, input wrong answers, and skew data collection.

Be flexible with question-answer choices. Including options such as “none of the above” or “other” will keep people more engaged.

Ask questions one at a time. This will prevent people from feeling overwhelmed or affecting the quality of the data due to a misunderstanding of what is being asked.

Think carefully about what question type to utilize. Will I get the best answer to these questions with a close-ended question or open-ended question? Am I looking for answer depth or answer comparability?

Know the audience you are surveying. Choosing the best population segment to answer your questions is vital to data accuracy. Researchers must always know their target audiences and required demographics for respondents.


What Is a Survey?

A survey is an act of collecting information from a sample of people with the intent to generalize the findings to a larger group of people and provide statistical analysis. While questionnaires are question sets to collect responses, surveys are the research methods for collecting data to gain information.  

Surveys are utilized within almost every industry interested in gathering insights, including businesses, the media, government, and academics. The quotas are predefined and surveyed through standardized procedures. This ensures a level playing field for all respondents and prevents the introduction of biases.

RELATED: How to Prevent Survey Bias: Causes & Ways to Fix

The four most common types of surveys include:

  • Face-to-Face Surveys: A researcher or survey administrator is in person with a panel and asks them quantitative questions. This can include focus groups, customer experiences, and mall stops.
  • Telephone Surveys: People are called, and their answers are gathered over the phone.
  • Self-administered paper and pencil surveys: Respondents manually input hard-copy answers and return the surveys to the administrators by mailing them in.
  • Self-administered online surveys: Surveys administered to large numbers of participants predominantly over the internet. Due to the rise in technology, online surveys are becoming one of the leading forms of surveying, providing users with greater ease of use and cost savings options.


Survey Sampling

Once a survey questionnaire has been designed and tested, and it’s been determined what audiences the study needs to reach, researchers can begin to think about fielding methodology. After identifying their target audience and demographics, they can seek out the best sample providers to supply them with respondents that will yield high-quality insights. 

Researchers can:

  • Email or text respondents directly. When survey takers are directly targeted, have given communication permissions, and are already familiar with your brand, they are easier to reach and gather responses from.
  • Buy respondents. Buying sample widens survey feasibility and utilizes groups of people who actively participate in survey platforms to answer surveys. Through survey platforms like PureSpectrum’s Marketplace, researchers can access over 60+ integrated panels for easier automated survey fielding.
  • Post to a social network or use an embedded QR code in ads/web pages. While on the go or viewing social media on a mobile device, researchers can gain access to these individuals through social media platforms.
  • Use API technologies. Setting up a surveying API can save time when getting surveys into field and offer large-volume buyers simplified fielding methods. In just two API calls, researchers can set up their survey and begin receiving targeted sample. PureSpectrum offers Buy API integrations to help researchers achieve greater efficiency. Check out our new advances in Buy API technology to see if it’s the right fit for your research.

As you have now learned, all surveys are questionnaires, but not all questionnaires are surveys. While there are limited uses for stand-alone questionnaires, there are many more use cases for launching a survey. Because surveys aggregate data from multiple respondents, they are the best option when looking to make broad conclusions about results.

Ready to get started launching an online survey? Reach out to our team to learn more about PureSpectrum’s end-to-end market research platform: 

About PureSpectrum 

PureSpectrum offers a complete end-to-end market research and insights platform, helping insights professionals make decisions more efficiently, and faster than ever before. Awarded MR Supplier of the Year at the 2021 Marketing Research and Insight Excellence Awards, PureSpectrum is recognized for industry-leading data quality. PureSpectrum developed the respondent-level scoring system,  PureScore™, and believes their continued success stems from their talent density and dedication to simplicity and quality.

In the few years since its inception, PureSpectrum has been named one of the Fastest Growing Companies in North America on Deloitte’s Fast 500 since 2020, and ranked for three years in a row on the GRIT Top 50 Most Innovative List and the Inc. 5000 lists.