Conducting Survey Research

Electronic Surveys

With the growth of the Internet (and in particular the World Wide Web) and the expanded use of electronic mail for business communication, the electronic survey is becoming a more widely used survey method. Electronic surveys can take many forms. They can be distributed as electronic mail messages sent to potential respondents. They can be posted as World Wide Web forms on the Internet. And they can be distributed via publicly available computers in high-traffic areas such as libraries and shopping malls. In many cases, electronic surveys are placed on laptops and respondents fill out a survey on a laptop computer rather than on paper.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Electronic Surveys


Cost-savings: It is less expensive to send questionnaires online than to pay for postage or for interviewers.

Ease of Editing/Analysis: It is easier to make changes to questionnaire, and to copy and sort data.

Faster Transmission Time: Questionnaires can be delivered to recipients in seconds, rather than in days as with traditional mail.

Easy Use of Preletters: You may send invitations and receive responses in a very short time and thus receive participation level estimates.

Higher Response Rate: Research shows that response rates on private networks are higher with electronic surveys than with paper surveys or interviews.

More Candid Responses: Research shows that respondents may answer more honestly with electronic surveys than with paper surveys or interviews.

Potentially Quicker Response Time with Wider Magnitude of Coverage: Due to the speed of online networks, participants can answer in minutes or hours, and coverage can be global.


Sample Demographic Limitations: Population and sample limited to those with access to computer and online network.

Lower Levels of Confidentiality: Due to the open nature of most online networks, it is difficult to guarantee anonymity and confidentiality.

Layout and Presentation issues: Constructing the format of a computer questionnaire can be more difficult the first few times, due to a researcher's lack of experience.

Additional Orientation/Instructions: More instruction and orientation to the computer online systems may be necessary for respondents to complete the questionnaire.

Potential Technical Problems with Hardware and Software: As most of us (perhaps all of us) know all too well, computers have a much greater likelihood of "glitches" than oral or written forms of communication.

Response Rate: Even though research shows that e-mail response rates are higher, Opermann (1995) warns that most of these studies found response rates higher only during the first few days; thereafter, the rates were not significantly higher.

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