The Advantages & Concerns of Online Surveys
Often the ease of use is cited as a main advantage of online survey websites, but there is software available that will create hard-copy surveys where the design of the survey is just as easy as that of an online survey solution.
However, in the past, many people did not invest in specialist software but built their surveys using a word-processor. When comparing an online survey solution to that using a word-processor, there is no contest, the online survey software will enable a customized survey to be built very quickly and will allow changes to be made with a speed and flexibility not available when using a word-processor. This is because word-processors are general purpose applications, whereas survey software is a niche product that has inbuilt knowledge and facilities specifically designed to help create and design surveys.
No Software to download or Special Technology Required
The majority of online surveys websites provide a fully hosted solution. There is no software to download as surveys are created and deployed using a standard browser. The online survey website will often host the survey so no specialist equipment is required.
Online surveys can be tested to ensure that the questions and answer options are correctly worded and that once collected the data can be analyzed to achieve the goals and objectives of the survey.
Cost Effective Dissemination
The distribution of hard-copy surveys is costly both financially and in time. On the other-hand for no additional cost than the email software already installed online surveys can be distributed rapidly by email or via a link on one or more websites.
Late Correction or Modification
Once a survey has been published it is not desirable for it to be changed in any way. However, should a mistake be discovered, or through circumstance, an additional question be required, online surveys allow for late corrections or modifications, something that is unthinkable in a hard-copy survey.
Easier for Respondents to Complete
Online surveys allow for a large degree of automation. Questions can be configured to only allow one response; questions can also be made mandatory so they are not missed. Branching and skip logic can be applied so that based on a respondent's answers only relevant follow up questions are asked.
Ability to Link and Redirect at the End of the Survey
Online surveys can link to other information on the Internet and at the end of the survey the respondent can be redirected to a follow up page.
Partial and Incomplete Responses
Online surveys will in many instances allow the data from partially completed surveys, giving the option to include or exclude such response data from the results.
In printed surveys, respondent rarely send back surveys they have only partially completed..
Real-Time Results and Analysis
Nearly all online survey solutions provide the results in real-time. Compare this to a hard-copy survey where the completed forms have to be collected and then the results collated either by manual data entry or using a semi-automated and costly Optical Character Recognition (OCR) or Optical Mark Reading (OMR) technology.
Online survey results are often stored in a format that can be analysed in a number of different ways, allowing charts to be created or the data filtered providing query facilities.
Many online survey websites allow the survey to be deployed in multiple languages. This allows respondents to complete the survey in their preferred language, yet the survey results can be reported, in real time, in the base language.
Multiple Entries from Same Respondent
Online surveys can be configured to minimize the risk from respondents submitting multiple responses, however they are not all fool proof.
Multiple entries from the same respondent can also be a problem for hard-copy surveys, and the same techniques that are used to prevent duplicate submissions for hard-copy surveys can often be applied to online surveys.
Inaccurate Respondent Data
Inaccurate response data can be a problem for both online and hard-copy surveys. However, some hard-copy surveys will claim to be more accurate because they are conducted using survey administrators who complete the survey with the respondent on a one on one basis.
There are many survey topics where due to the nature of the survey such concerns can be safely ignored, for example an employee survey where demographic data is known.
There are also techniques that can be applied to help minimize the risk of inaccurate data.
Where it is critical for the demographic data to be accurate there are still advantages with the survey administrator using an online survey to collect the data. With the availability of wireless and mobile broadband online surveys can be run remotely.
Online surveys rely on technology that can for a number of reasons fail. However, the Internet is by design a very robust and reliable technology. For very large surveys there may be concerns that the server could become overloaded however such concerns can be addressed by estimating the expected server loads and suitable technology installed and/or the respondent invitations staggered to prevent an unmanageable demand level.
For some survey topics an online survey may exclude the very people that they wish to canvas. Although Internet access is no longer limited to the more affluent society, there are some countries, and/or social groups that do not have easy access to the Internet, although access can in some cases be provided; however for illiterates or those with certain disabilities an online survey may be unsuitable.
The advantages of using online surveys are considerable. Many of the concerns apply just as much to printed surveys as they do to online surveys and in most cases, the concerns can be addressed to the extent that the problem is minor, or eradicated. There are some surveys where either a hybrid approach may need to be taken, and some very rare cases where conducting the survey online would just not be suitable.