Conducting Survey Research

Oral Surveys

Oral surveys are considered more personal forms of survey than the written or electronic methods. Oral surveys are generally used to get thorough opinions and impressions from the respondents.

Oral surveys can be administered in several different ways. For instance, in a group interview, as opposed to a group administered written survey, each respondent is not given an instrument (an individual questionnaire). Instead, the respondents work in groups to answer the questions together while one person takes notes for the whole group. Another more familiar form of oral survey is the phone survey. Phone surveys can be used to get short one word answers (yes/no), as well as longer answers.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Oral Surveys


Personal Contact: Oral surveys conducted either on the telephone or in person give the interviewer the ability to answer questions from the participant. If the participant, for example, does not understand a question or needs further explanation on a particular issue, it is possible to converse with the participant. According to Glastonbury and MacKean, "interviewing offers the flexibility to react to the respondent's situation, probe for more detail, seek more reflective replies and ask questions which are complex or personally intrusive" (p. 228).

Response Rate: Although obtaining a certain number of respondents who are willing to take the time to do an interview is difficult, the researcher has more control over the response rate in oral survey research than with other types of survey research. As opposed to mail surveys where the researcher must wait to see how many respondents actually answer and send back the survey, a researcher using oral surveys can, if the time and money are available, interview respondents until the required sample has been achieved.


Cost: The most obvious disadvantage of face-to-face and telephone survey is the cost. It takes time to collect enough data for a complete survey, and time translates into payroll costs and sometimes payment for the participants.

Bias: Using face-to-face interview for your survey may also introduce bias, from either the interviewer or the interviewee.

Types of Questions Possible: Certain types of questions are not convenient for this type of survey, particularly for phone surveys where the respondent does not have a chance to look at the questionnaire. For instance, if you want to offer the respondent a choice of 5 different answers, it will be very difficult for respondents to remember all of the choices, as well as the question, without a visual reminder. This problem requires the researcher to take special care in constructing questions to be read aloud.

Attitude: Anyone who has ever been interrupted during dinner by a phone interviewer is aware of the negative feelings many people have about answering a phone survey. Upon receiving these calls, many potential respondents will simply hang up.

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