What Is In a Survey?

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In this feature, we try to answer our readers’ questions in a thoughtful way. If you have other questions you would like to see featured in a later post, please leave them in the comments below!

Q. Can you send me a survey to look at so I can get an idea of what I will be doing? - Willard

A. Unfortunately, we cannot send you an actual sample survey, for several very good reasons, such as.

    1. We do not provide surveys, we just list sites that do.
    2. The surveys are proprietary information, owned by the site that provided it, and we could be in legal trouble if we reproduced one.
    3. Surveys vary extremely, so there is no one "typical" type of survey.
However, we can give you an idea of what to expect in a survey, as most surveys contain certain elements. For answering the actual questions, you will usually have options such as check-boxes, radio (circle) buttons, drop-down menus, blank fill-in lines, and occasionally other things like dragging and dropping your answers into various areas of the screen.
Most surveys will begin by asking some "qualification" questions. These include basic demographics (age & gender being the most usual) and possibly some questions that relate to the content of the survey. If you do not meet the qualifications, you will be unable to take the actual survey.
    For instance, if a survey topic was on baby products, some qualification questions would be whether you had any children in the house. Obviously, if you don't, you probably don't need the products the survey is about.
Other qualification questions might be more specific, such as asking how many times you'd seen a movie in a theatre in the past 2 months, or asking if you've bought or used a specific brand of product. If you meet the qualifications, you will be able to continue. For more information about survey disqualifications, see our article "Understanding Survey Disqualifications," from our seven day course.
The Survey
Assuming that you met the qualifications for the survey, you will now start the actual survey itself. Some surveys will give a message saying that you qualified, others just start you on the actual questions without any other notice.

The content and type of surveys varies greatly.

  • Some will just be lists of questions that you answer just as you would any paper-and-pencil survey that you'd find anywhere.
  • Some will require that you view information (such as a video clip or a news article) and then answer questions about it. (Example: A TV ad for popcorn. "Did you like it?" "Was it interesting?")
  • Some will show you more than one item and ask you for your input on each, and then ask you to rank them against each other. (Example: Three new packaging options for potato chips. "Which package do you prefer?")
  • Some will be politically related. (Examples: "Who are you planning to vote for?" or "Do you think this country is moving in the right direction?")
  • Some may include a full movie preview and then ask what you liked and disliked about it.
There are many more types and content of surveys than this, and the ones you see will vary depending on your demographics. For instance, I am a stay-at-home mom with children in diapers, so I see a lot of surveys for baby products and diapers.

In addition to these normal survey types, there are other special opportunities, including product tests and focus groups, which usually pay more and are more involved. See our article "Take Advantage of Special Survey Opportunities" for more information on these types of surveys.

After you've finished the main survey, you will generally have to answer a few demographic questions so that the researchers can sort your responses by category. It is useful to them to know, for instance, that men prefer one type of product and women prefer another, or what the preferences are for different age groups.

Questions you will answer in this section typically include your age and gender again. This also functions as a security check for them, because if you change your age or gender between the qualification questions and the demographic ones, they can be pretty sure that you aren't answering honestly, and will disqualify you at this point. Be sure to be honest and consistent!

Other questions you may or may not see include your income level (as a range), the number of people in your household, your location, education level, and other general questions that may be useful to the researchers.

    None of this information will be personally identifiable, and they will NOT ask for any financial information such as your credit card number or bank account number or social security number. (If any site ever asks for those, RUN AWAY! They are not legit!)
Conclusion and Reward
After you've finished the survey, you may or may not be given a message indicating that the survey is complete. Either way, you will be sent to the reward page for your survey, where you should be awarded the points or money amount previously agreed upon.

Now, obviously there are many variations to how a survey will work, but this gives a general idea of some of the more likely contents of a survey.

Do you have any other things you would consider typical for a survey? How would you answer the original question? Leave your ideas and any other questions you might have in the comments below!

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Comments (1)

  • LapisLee June 15, 2012 Reply
    Great article Hannah!