Step 2: Choose a survey format

This section provides an overview of the pros and cons of the design options available for questionnaires.


Self-complete surveys (hard copy or online) are the main option used in a school environment. They are a good option when:

  • the questions are self-explanatory
  • literacy levels in the target population are high enough to allow unassisted completion
  • you need to show pictures, maps, diagrams etc. (although this can also be done through face-to-face interviews)
  • respondents need to refer to other documentation or records to answer our questions
  • you need a group response (for example, one response per school) rather than an individual response
  • there is a strong culture of cooperation from the target population
  • people may want their responses to be completely anonymous
  • you have accurate addresses (and/or email addresses) for the target population.

Hard copy surveys

The main advantage of a hard copy survey is the ability to collect the data in real time. For example, if our target population is already in the room, you can ask them to fill out a survey before they leave. Hard copy surveys also don’t rely on access to the internet or familiarity with online platforms.

Online surveys

The main advantages of an online survey include:

  • convenience for respondents who regularly use computers
  • speed of completion compared with the delays involved in posting out forms or sending them home with students and then waiting for responses to be returned
  • ease of following up non-response
  • enabling respondents to use screen readers and translation tools, if required
  • avoiding the need for manual data entry, which adds time and an element of human error
  • automatically controlling the flow of questions from one screen to the next, rather than having to give people instructions to answer the questions that are relevant for them (»» Go to Question 7, for example)
  • the ability to read people’s open ended responses easily, without having to decipher handwriting.

There are a number of online survey tools that may assist in the development of surveys, such as Survey Gizmo, Survey Monkey, Google Forms and Web Survey Creator. Most of these tools can be accessed free of charge, although this will sometimes only be with limited functionality or for a trial period. This allows us to run small survey projects easily or test suitability for our purposes before purchasing a license.

Hybrid online / hard-copy surveys

A hybrid approach can be a good option in cases where you don't have email addresses for all of the target population. For example, you could do online surveys for students and teachers and a combination of online and hard copy for parents.


Interviewer-administered surveys (face-to-face or telephone) are not often used in school-based research or evaluations, but are useful in certain situations.

  • Face-to-face surveys tend to be short, in which the interviewer catches people on their way through the gate or in another social situation. This is a good option when you need to interview people when they are available in order to get a response, and if you only have a few quick questions.
  • Telephone surveys tend to be used in market research-style projects as they allow precision in sampling, and are an efficient way of gaining geographic coverage without incurring travel costs.
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