Traditionally, surveys have been carried by sending a team of research assistants to collect data in the field. In this method, questionnaires are prepared and carried as hard copies. Interviews are conducted face to face.
With current increase in internet use, online surveys are being conducted as they have proved to be efficient and fast. This requires one to be well equipped with knowledge of how to use internet, authoring programs, HTML code, and scripting programs. Online survey is young and evolving at a high rate.
Survey authoring software packages and online survey services make online survey researches much easier, cheap, and fast. The way a survey is to be conducted is determined by the kind of research. This is because it is not all researches that can be carried out online.
Many disciplines have not yet discovered the use of online survey researches and thus they have not been used in most disciplines (Abramson & Abramson, 1999). This paper will look at the advantages and disadvantages of using online survey researches.
Accessibility to Population
There has been increased acquaintance with internet use and this has caused the young generation to be more into computers and curious to explore all that can be done with internet.
The cost of computers and soft ware has continued to reduce over time. Researchers in different disciplines have found online survey to be suitable and productive. Online survey allows a researcher to reach all the population.
It provides an opportunity to reach to the populations that cannot be reached using other forms of surveys. There are groups of people and communities that exist in cyber space. It is possible to reach virtual communities that share the same interests and values through internet.
Virtual communities can allow a researcher to reach a unique group of people that share the same interest and ideas concerning a specific topic or problem (Ade, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008). One can also reach to old group of people who use internet and get to know their opinion on different topics.
Compared to traditional methods of data collection, it would be difficult to reach to a similar demographic population as it is in online survey research. In health communication, it has been possible to reach to unique groups with certain conditions like HIV through online surveys for there is no stigma as in offline surveys (Abramson & Abramson, 1999).
Online surveys save time for researchers. It allows a researcher to reach many people with similar characteristics within a short time. It allows the researcher to reach to people who are separated by long distances within no time.
A researcher can gain access to reach population by simply posting an invitation to take part in chat rooms and message boards. Online surveys also allow the researcher to carry out other tasks.
Data collected can be transferred to database and preliminary analysis done as the researcher waits for the desired sample size. Data can be exported to statistical software packages where it can be analyzed and interpreted with ease.
This saves time as no task is done manually as compared to paper questionnaires which need to be keyed in to computer for analysis (Ade, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008).
Online surveys help the researcher to get instant feedback and this saves a lot of money that one could have used on transport to get feedback on questionnaires distributed.
Cost can hinder researchers who have a large sample size to reach. With online surveys, labor costs, paper and postage and other expenses incurred during distribution of questionnaires are eliminated.
Online surveys responses are automatic and documented thus transcription costs are not incurred. Costs of telephone and recording equipments are also eliminated when one uses online surveys (Ade, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008).
In online survey, there is no random sampling. The researchers target a group of people with the same interests and who fit the same demographic. The individuals with interest on the posted topic or issue self select themselves and respond.
Online surveys exclude people who are not literate and cannot use a computer thus it is biased. This kind of researches cannot be scientific as there is no random sampling and they are biased to a particular group of people.
Some people offer incentives to respondents or prizes to be won and this can lead to multiple responses. Self selection leads to a systematic bias whereby some people participate while others ignore the invitation to participate to a survey (Ade, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008).
Online surveys assume that people will be honest when giving out demographic data. Sometime people are not honest on information relating to age, race and gender and this can alter the accuracy of data.
In tradition surveys, this is usually not a problem as the researcher can see the gender and can even get the correct age and race without problems. Some people can give even false response to characteristic information (Abramson & Abramson, 1999).
Online survey requires the respondents to have knowledge on how to use computer properly and well experience to avoid user error which can lead to replication of responses. This affects the quality of data (Ade, Mellenbergh, & Hand, 2008).
Abramson J. & Abramson H, (1999).Survey Methods in Community Medicine: Epidemiological Research, Programme Evaluation, Clinical Trials (5th edition). London: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier Health Sciences
Ade J, Mellenbergh G, & Hand D, (2008). Advising On Research Methods: A Consultant’s Companion. Huizen, The Netherlands: Johannes van Kessel Publishing.