How to Collect Data Effectively? An Overview of the Best Online Survey Providers

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This post will talk about the pros and cons of a few selected providers of online survey services and may help you find the best survey service provider for your research purposes. With the information given in this post, your future data collections will become much easier due to the overview of survey providers for quantitative research you will receive. After giving you an insight into the diversity of survey tools and the general features they provide, four of the best featured and most frequently used survey tool providers will be presented in greater detail.

While writing your thesis, no matter whether it is for your Bachelor’s or your Master’s degree, you will have encountered the critical point of data collection. Most quantitative data is collected through questionnaires which should adhere to the relevant diagnostic criteria of validity and reliability. Today, most empirical research in psychology is computer or even online based, which offers you the opportunity to easily reach a large number of participants, either collecting them through social networks, such as Xing or LinkedIn or having their e-mail addresses and contacting them directly with a link to your questionnaire. Maybe you have tried one or the other online survey provider for means of data collection and analysis fitting your own research purposes. Well-known ones such as Survey Monkey, SurveyGizmo or Free Online Surveys offer good value for little or no money, but also have their limitations.

General Information: What are Survey Service Providers and why are they so useful in general?

Searching the internet for the best online survey provider of the market reveals the variety of existing providers. Depending on one’s needs, a large variety of survey providers, of which I have tested and analyzed over seventy different ones, offer their services. These include polling, data collection and the analysis of your collected data, offered by a range of providers – from the well- known platform Survey Monkey to the rather unknown services of  Rational Survey and they all have their vices and virtues.

Those online based Survey Providers offer you the opportunity to collect data for market research or any scientific research that you are willing to launch online. Moreover, some of them provide numerous other features – from polling questions to the analysis of your collected data. You have not heard of the difference between polls and questionnaires? Let me briefly explain it to you:

A poll allows you to ask one multiple choice question. Participants can choose from among answers that you predefine. You can allow the voter to select just one answer or allow them to choose multiple answers. You also have the option of adding additional fields to allow a voter to enter their own answer. On the other hand, a survey allows you to ask multiple questions across a wider range of question types, for instance video or audio embedded questions, multiple choice questions or likert scaled rating questions. Online survey services can be very useful when needing to collect a large number of participants.

The best survey providers work closely with social media services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Xing and LinkedIn, meaning that you can easily collect participants by spreading the word about your survey on these platforms. Moreover, some survey providers such as Smart Survey, Web Survey Creator or Research Now support your search for participants with their Audience Gathering Services. These however might often only be relevant for your research if your target group is the whole population of a country or region. This major incentive means that Internet methods can provide access to samples beyond your own reach, accessing a database of participants that will answer your survey.

Free accounts and paid features

This leads to another major point of online survey providers: Online survey tools vary regarding the number of free features they provide. Some offer a wide range of free features one can use for scientific purposes; in other cases, the more important features are only available in a paid plan. Nevertheless in many cases you can create, manage and distribute the survey for your thesis with a free account.  Paid features are mainly relevant for large scale data collections and market research.

Relevant criteria for the assessment of a Survey Provider

Besides the cost, there are several other important criteria you should keep in mind when choosing an online survey service. During my internship at the online based company cloud solutions, one of my first tasks was to establish those quality criteria of survey providers and analyze whether the seventy different survey provider, which I had compared, were able to meet those quality criteria.  Result of this research is an overview of 15 of the best survey providers (Table 1). Information, such as link, focus of each survey provider and whether there is a free version available can be drawn from the table which you can find later in this post.

 When you decide which survey provider suits best for you to work with, there are several assessment criteria you should take into consideration. The best survey providers possess a high depth of functionality which allows them to meet the following categories of criteria:

  • Depth of Functionality
  • Website Polish and Professionalism
  • Focus of the provider
  • Trustworthiness of the provider

Depth of Functionality

Depth of functionality expresses how many different functions the online tool provides, how many different features it offers from number of question format or automated e-mail reminders to complex data analysis. Providers such as Survey GizmoSurvey MonkeyQuestion Pro, Fluid Surveys and Poll Daddy all guarantee  a high depth of functionality, since they provide a large number of different features. They all offer, for instance, a huge variety of question types: from tables of checkboxes, star rankings, radio buttons, slider questions to the possibility of embedding video sequences into your question format. Moreover, they offer dynamic question numbering, column randomization and other question related features. Given a high depth of functionality and wide range of features, those survey providers can help you collect your thesis data effectively.

Website Polish and Professionalism

This criterion indicates the quality and professionalism of the provider’s website and the understandability of the user surface. It is important that you can easily understand how to create a survey, which question types you can chose from for the implementation of your questionnaire such as how to analyze your data. If the provider’s website already makes a diffuse or unorderly impression, you can’t expect the tool to be much different.

Focus

Every survey provider tries to profile itself through its unique focus and features to win over competitors. All of the fifteen best survey providers offer a comprehensive package containing all relevant features (surveys, polls, simple and complex question types, meeting security standards, safety of data, data analysis etc.). On the other hand, there are providers focusing on specific features, such as Ask your target market offering market research services or Aviusinsight  focusing on iPod and iPad surveys.

Trustworthiness

As you store various research related information on the online platform and your participants their personal data, you need to be sure of the trustworthiness and security standards of your survey service provider, especially in times where one NSA scandal follows the other. Some of the best providers claim their high security standard by numerous examples and through references of global player firms they have already worked for. This is particularly the case for Survey Monkey stating whose clients rank from Facebook to Samsung having over 15 million different clients, for Fluid Surveys working for BMW, Kawasaki, Nestlé and Fujitsu, just to give some examples.  This could be a good hint to feel reassured that the provider will be careful with your data already adhering to the high security policies of global player firms. Nevertheless, the best way to prove their security is a security certification, such as TRUSTe  or Globalsign. Only too few of the seventy online survey providers originally investigated have obtained such a security certification by an international security certification firm. Only Survey Monkey, Question Pro and Instant.ly possess such a privacy and security seal by TRUSTe.

Which Survey Service Provider is the best?

After you have read all above stated criteria to consider when searching the internet for a new survey provider or when assessing the ones you use, you might feel confused which provider you should use for your thesis. The following table gives you the long promised overview of the ten best online survey services compiled in 2013. They mainly differ in their website polish and some minor question type features, but all relevant features are similar. Survey Gizmo in contrast to Survey Monkey allows you to embed videos to your questions, has UK based servers, whereas Survey Monkey’s servers are located in the US, to pronounce just one of their differences.

table 1

One of the critical points of all survey providers mentioned and investigated is that they are limited to classical and not too complex research designs. Although the best survey providers can help you most of the time to collect effectively the data of your thesis, you will reach their limitations when diary, longitudinal or other more complex study designs are planned. Thus, more complex studies cannot be created by any of the providers investigated. Depending on the complexity of your research design, it might be useful to work with companies specializing on the programming and the implementation of those complex designs. If you investigate the stress level of telecommunication service workers on a daily basis, for instance, and there are several, different surveys that you need to administrate individually at different times of the day, you won’t be able to implement the study with any of the tools discussed so far. Kubiak & Krog (2012) compiled a list of tools, both hardware and software, that have been used for the measurement of daily life in their chapter in Handbook of Research Methods for Studying Daily Life. Even though many of the tools mentioned there and elsewhere are either outdated or expensive, there are a few very good ones like the tools by http://www.ilumivu.com  for clinical single case observation research or https://xs.movisens.com, an ambulatory assessment tool for Android. Companies who offer fully customized research platforms that researchers can afford are few and far between. The company cloud solutions, founded by three EFPSA alumni, helps researchers implement custom complex diary, longitudinal or sociometric studies.

To sum up, there is a variety of online survey tools and service providers that can help you with the data collection of your thesis providing numerous possibilities to create your personalized survey and drawing from a large pool of question features. If none of those tools can fulfill your scientific needs, there are specialized companies out there to help you create your custom solution.

References

HigherEd Insight. (2012, July 3). A Review of online survey tools. Retrieved from: http://www.spring.org.uk/the1sttransporthttp://adultcollegecompletion.org/node/119

Kubiak, T., & Krog, K. (2012). Computerized sampling of experiences and behavior. In M. R. Mehl & T. S. Conner (Eds.), Handbook of research methods for studying daily life. New York: Guilford.

About the author

Sina Scherer Sina Scherer, studying at University of Münster, Germany, and University of Padova, Italy. I have previously worked as JEPS Bulletin Editor and am active in a NMUN project simulating the political work of the United Nations as voluntary work. I am interested in cognitive neuroscience and intercultural psychology, anthropology and organizational psychology (aspects of work-life balance, expatriation).

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  • http://www.supersimplesurvey.com Victor

    Hi Sina,

    There are plenty of great free services out there in the market at the moment, but we picked up on some main issues:
    – Very limited features
    – Very few responses allowed on the free tier
    – Exceptionally difficult to use
    – No branding

    We have been developing what we believe to be the most awesome survey tool around – http://www.SuperSimpleSurvey.com

    Basically, the free tier has all the awesome features (nothing is limited), and you can get 150 responses before needing to upgrade. And if there’s anything you’re missing, just drop us a line and we’ll make it happen.

    Hope that makes some of your lives easier :)

    Victor

  • John

    Nice Read!!!!! Online survey is the best method through which you will collect data effectively. The main thing is that choose the best service provider, so that you will not face any difficulty. Its process is very easy to understand. You can take help from the survey tool as well. There are many companies which will pay you after the completion of survey and this is the big advantage. There are various survey tools around you, but pick up the best, so that you will easily get an advantage.
    Reference:http://www.opinisurveys.com/uk/rewards.html

  • http://www.thefas-solutions.com Robertson

    I would recommend SoGoSurvey! You can create surveys, quizzes, polls as well as forms on its easy platform. What I really love about the online survey software is that besides its basic Free Plan, it offers its Professional Plan for free to students, faculty and non-profit organizations. How cool is that?!!!

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  • http://www.sogosurvey.com/ Elizabeth Scott

    Very helpful article! This would definitely help me to gather data for my thesis easily.

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  • Patricia Adams

    The article explains everything in great detail and I simply loved it. As a personal opinion a survey tool that offers more features in its free plan would always top my list of criteria for choosing an online survey tool. This article mentions a wide variety of tools and I would like look out for some more options. Can you help me out? I am confused between SoGoSurvey and Zoho. I am more inclined towards SoGoSurvey as they provide Free Student License. What’s your take?