Surveys are the most commonly used tool in sociological research, whether in the form of a questionnaire, interview, or telephone poll. Surveys make it possible to ask specific questions about a large number of topics and then perform sophisticated analyses to find patterns and relationships among variables.
Questionnaires are typically distributed to large groups of people and are commonly distributed through the mail. There are several advantages of using a questionnaire over other forms of surveys. They are cheap, they do not require as much effort in gathering responses as does a verbal or telephone survey, and they often have standardized answers that make it easy to compile answers. That is, questionnaires are typically made up of closed-ended questions with specific response categories rather than open-ended questions that allow respondents to write in their answers. There are also disadvantages to using a questionnaire. For instance, limiting a respondent’s answer choices may frustrate the respondent. Also, questionnaires require that the respondents are able to read the questions and respond to them, which could limit the demographic groups to which the questionnaire is distributed.
Similarly to questionnaires, interviews provide a structured way to ask people questions. They may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone. Interview questions may be open-ended or closed-ended, though typically open-ended questions are more common as they allow the respondent to elaborate their answers.
A telephone poll is a questionnaire that is done over the telephone. The response categories are typically pre-defined (closed-ended) with little opportunity for respondents to elaborate their responses. Telephone polls can be very costly and time-consuming and since the introduction of the Do Not Call Registry, telephone polls have become harder to conduct. Many times respondents are not open to taking these phone calls and hang up before responding to any questions. Telephone polls are used often during political campaigns or to get consumer opinions about a product or service.
Andersen, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.