Know the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Surveys

We can cite several advantages to using online surveys for data collection:

  1. Respondent convenience: Online surveys can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, which makes it easy for respondents to complete the survey at their convenience.

  2. Cost-effective: Online surveys are less expensive to administer than traditional paper-based surveys, as they do not require printing or mailing costs. As compared to mailed surveys, you also know more about whether a survey reached its recruitment target when you send out emails.

  3. Quick turnaround: Online surveys can be designed and deployed quickly, allowing for pulse surveys, faster data collection (because you don’t need optical character recognition or data entry), and analysis.

  4. Large samples: It is easier to reach a larger number of respondents through online surveys, as they can be distributed to a wide audience through email or social media.

  5. Advanced features: Online surveys offer advanced features such as skip logic, which allows the survey to adapt to the respondent’s responses and only present relevant questions, and the ability to include multimedia elements such as images and videos. You may be able to insert the name of the person at points: “Rees, now let’s ask you a few questions about training.”

  6. Data integrity: Online surveys can be designed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the data collected by using validation checks and other quality control measures.

  7. Easy to analyze: The data collected through online surveys can be easily imported into statistical software for analysis, making it faster and easier to generate reports and insights. You also know how long they spent on the survey, which can help determine legitimacy.

  8. Partial data: You can capture whatever portion of the survey the person completes. This particularly applies to free-text questions. With an online instrument, the person who is taking it can type all they want and much more rapidly than if they had to handwrite their answer on paper. They can revise and move material around.

  9. Flexibility: You can change questions, instructions, drop-down lists, order of questions as you go along – but carefully. You can more easily dispatch variants than with a printed survey.

  10. Distribution: An online survey can be forwarded easily by anyone who receives it. Or they can post the URL and description on a listserv, website or social media.

But let’s give equal attention to potential problems with online surveys that researchers should be aware of and take steps to mitigate:

  1. Low response rate: One of the main challenges with online surveys is getting people to take them. This can be due to a lack of incentives, a lack of trust in the researcher/sponsor, or simply a lack of interest. You might have a low number, such as 23 responses, or you might have a low number in proportion to the population, if you know that total figure.

  2. Sampling bias: Online surveys are often self-selected, meaning that mostly people who are motivated to take the survey will do so. This can lead to a biased sample that is not representative of the population being studied. To offer one possibility: what if COOs who believe they are underpaid are more likely to respond to a compensation survey? The resulting averages and medians will be below the true figures if you had less sampling bias.

  3. Technological issues: Online surveys introduce technical issues such as errors, slow loading times, or compatibility issues with certain devices or browsers. These issues can lead to frustration and a loss of respondents. In my experience with scores of surveys, inevitably people write me and complain that they completed the survey “but it didn’t save”.

  4. Data quality: It can be difficult to ensure the quality of data collected through online surveys, as respondents may not fully understand the questions or may provide inaccurate responses. No one sits in front of them to give guidance. Not infrequently, respondents pick and choose from among the questions those that they feel like answering.

  5. Security: There are also concerns about the security of online surveys, as there is a risk that sensitive data may be accessed or stolen by hackers. Relatedly, we are all alert to not clicking on unknown URLs, and the hosting software might create a URL that no one recognizes.

  6. Emails blocked: To protect against spam and mass mailings, law firms and corporations invest in software that blocks incoming email from Constant Contact and other bulk mailing applications. Even if you try to get your survey to people by adding them to a blind carbon copy set, those efforts might be blocked also.

  7. Non-qualified respondents. Any survey of much size will get interlopers. Sometimes it is an honest mistake, like a Chief Financial Officer taking a Chief Operating Officer survey. Other times, the goal is business intelligence. Someone wants the data, as when a consulting firm takes the Chief Operating Officer survey and hopes that the sponsor doesn’t notice and sends the firm the report..

  8. Host constraints: Limitations on the hosting software capabilities may crop up. The vendor may upgrade or change the software or suffer downtime or maintenance problems.