Throwback Thursday: Interviews vs. Surveys

This post first appeared on Thesislink in January 2018.

In the red corner, weighing in at a hefty time commitment and a massive transcription job, we have… INTERVIEWS!

In the blue corner, weighing in at a stack of paper and variable data quality, we have… SURVEYS!

In the battle of the qualitative data collection methods, surveys and interviews both pack quite a punch. Both can help you figure out what your human participants are thinking; how they make decisions, how they behave, and what they believe. Traditionally, both involve questions (which you ask as the researcher) and answers (which your participants contribute). But despite their similarities, surveys and interviews can yield very different results.

One of the most crucial decisions to make before your data collection is which method/s to use. The last thing you want to do is get halfway through interviewing 50 people, only to realise that you really should have surveyed them instead.

Here are a few differences to think about as you consider which data collection method is best for your research.

Questions· Often many
· Simple / short-answer
· Multiple-choice, scaled, or free-text
· Few (ideally 6-8)
· In-depth
· Open-ended
FormatOn paper or onlineIn person or on the phone / Skype
Data relevance
Variable depending on the participants’ understanding of instructionsEasier to keep participants on-topic
Good forCapturing simple information in numerical or short-text formCapturing discursive or complex information on participants’ thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and beliefs
Ease for participantsEasy to fill out if kept simpleRequires a time commitment
Ease for researchersEasy to bulk-process online surveys and collate results, but still requires some interpretationRequires time and effort to conduct, transcribe, and analyse interviews
Design processMust carefully design questions and instructionsMust carefully design questions and practice good interview techniques

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available