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Surveys and Interviews

Surveys and interviews are a good way of gathering a large amount of data, providing a broad perspective. Interviews can be undertaken by telephone or face to face. Surveys can be administered electronically, by telephone, by mail or face to face.

Mail and electronically administered surveys have a wide reach, are relatively cheap to administer, information is standardised and privacy can be maintained.[1] They do, however, have a low response rate, are unable to investigate issues to any great depth, require that the target group is literate and do not allow for any observation.[1]

As surveys and interview data are self-reported by participants, there is a possibility that responses may be biased particularly if the issues involved are sensitive or require some measure of disclosure on trust by the participant. It is therefore vital that survey and interview questions used are designed and tested for validity and reliability with the target groups who will be completing the surveys.

Careful attention must be given to the design of surveys and interview questions. The use of an already designed and validated instrument will ensure that the data being collected is accurate. If you design your own questions it is necessary to pilot test the survey on a sample of your target group to ensure that it is measuring what it intends to measure and is appropriate for the target group.[1]

Questions within surveys and interviews can be asked in several ways and include: closed questions, open-ended and scaled questions, and multiple choice questions. Closed questions are usually in the format of yes/no or true/false options. Open-ended questions on the other hand leave the answer entirely up to the respondent and therefore provide a greater range of responses.[1] Additionally, the use of scales is useful when assessing participants’ attitudes. A multiple choice question may ask respondents to indicate their favourite topic covered in the program, or most preferred activity. Other considerations when developing a survey instrument include: question sequence, layout and appearance, length, language, and an introduction and cover letter.[1] Sensitive questions should be placed near the end rather than at the beginning.

Offering young people an incentive for completing the survey or interview or embedding the survey as a compulsory item within the program schedule or curriculum may be useful to maximise the response rate.

Surveys and interviews can be conducted face-to-face or by telephone. They can range from in-depth, semi-structured to unstructured depending on the information being sought.[2]

Face to face is advantageous since:

  • detailed questions can be asked
  • further probing can be done to provide rich data
  • literacy requirements of participants is not an issue
  • non verbal data can be collected through observation
  • complex and unknown issues can be explored
  • response rates are usually higher than for self-administered questionnaires.[2]

Disadvantages of face to face include:

  • they can be expensive and time consuming
  • training of interviewers is necessary to reduce interviewer bias and are administered in a standardised why
  • they are prone to interviewer bias and interpreter bias (if interpreters are used)
  • sensitive issues maybe challenging.[2]

Telephone interviews according to Bowling[2], yield just as accurate data as face to face interviews.

Telephone interviews are advantageous as they:

  • are cheaper and faster than face to face interviews to conduct
  • use less resources than face to face interviews
  • allow to clarify questions
  • do not require literacy skills.

Disadvantages of telephone interviews include:

  • having to make repeated calls as calls may not be answered the first time
  • potential bias if call backs are not made so bias is towards those who are at home
  • only suitable for short surveys
  • only accessible to the population with a telephone
  • not appropriate for exploring sensitive issues.[6]




You can also contact SiREN for personalised advice on how to develop and implement surveys or interviews and analyse findings at

Better Evaluation

The Better Evaluation website has detailed information on how to undertake surveys and interviews on their questionnaires page and interviews page. 

Conducting interviews

The Community Tool Box developed this resource to support you to prepare for, conduct, and use information from key informant interviews.

Conducting surveys

The Community Tool Box developed this resource to support you to learn the basics of conducting surveys, including survey creation, distribution and collection, and how to utilise survey data.



  1. Hawe, P., Degeling, D., Hall, J. 1990. Evaluating health promotion: A Health Worker’s Guide, MacLennan & Petty, Sydney.
  2. Bowling, A. 1997. Research methods in health: Investigating health and health services. Place Published: Open University Press.