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Users' opinions: Questionnaires and surveys

There is much confusion around the terms survey and questionnaire. They are often used interchangeably probably because people think they are synonymous. There is a significant difference between a questionnaire and a survey. A survey is defined as the evaluation of experiences or opinions of a group of people via questions as opposed to a questionnaire which is defined as a collection of written or printed questions with an answer choice made to conduct a survey.

The difference between survey and questionnaire is that the latter includes any written set of questions; while the former is both the set of questions and the process of collecting, aggregating, and analyzing the responses from those questions. In other words, “questionnaire” describes the content, while “survey” is a broader term that describes the content, method, and analysis.


Potentially questionnaires can reach a considerable number of people, so it is essential to ensure that they are well designed by doing at least one pilot study. Broadly speaking, there are two types of possible question structure: closed questions, where the respondent is asked to select an answer from a choice of alternative replies, and open questions, where the respondent is free to provide her own answer. The simples rating scales just checklists consisting of basic alternative responses to a very specific question. For example, a three-point scale of "yes", "no" and "don't know" is often used. More complex scales increase the number of points to produce a multi-point rating scale, and the meanings of either each individual point or just the endpoints are given. One variant on the multi-point rating scale is the Likert scale, where the strength of agreement with a clear statement is measured. A popular form of attitude scale used in HCI research is the semantic differential, which has bi-polar adjectives (such as easy-difficult, clear-confusing) at the endpoints of the scale, and respondents rate an interface on a scale between these paired adjectives.

Once the questionnaires have been given to the selected population, the responses obtained on the different rating scales are converted into numerical values and statistical analysis is performed. Usually, means and standard deviations from the mean are the main statistics used in the analysis of must survey data.

As well as taking care to make questions unambiguous it is wise to consider any measures that will increase the chance of respondents completing and returning the questionnaire. This means you have to make it as easy as possible for them. One rule of thumb applied by many survey research departments is to try to keep the questionnaire short. Of course, there are occasions when you will want to obtain a lot of detailed information so you may decide to break this rule.


A survey is a sophisticated quantitative research method comprised of a questionnaire with the intention of the efficient gathering of data from a set of respondents. A survey mainly consists of closed-ended questions with very few open-ended questions for free-form answers. Modern online surveys are used for data-oriented business, scientific, and academic research studies. A questionnaire is an integral part of a survey. But a survey may not be the intention of a questionnaire.

The respondent can explain the answer in a descriptive style in case of open-ended questions or a respondent can be asked to choose a response or an answer from a pre-defined set of options in case of close-ended questions. It’s vital to remember that you decimate, distribute or use a questionnaire but you don’t conduct a questionnaire. The list of questions in a survey is called a questionnaire. So the questionnaire is a tool to conduct a survey.

Flexibility, costs, coverage, willingness to take part, and the exactness of the reactions/responses can impact the method for directing surveys. Surveys are the customary method for completing research in which the respondents are addressed with respect to awareness, demographics, motivations, behavior.

In the end, surveys and questionnaires have more in common than different, one being part of the other, with the only distinction being in how they are presented to a respondent.

When to use a survey instead of a questionnaire—and vice versa

There are limited use cases for stand-alone questionnaires. These use cases include building an email list, accepting payments or donations, or collecting personal accounts for a research project. If–on the other hand–you’re looking for feedback from your respondents, a survey is a better option. It aggregates data from multiple respondents so that you can make broad conclusions about your results.


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