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The survey is a method of many sciences and their research directions. It is used to systematically obtain information about people's attitudes, opinions, knowledge and behavior. It can be oral or written (e.g. using a questionnaire ), standardized or freely. The term interview is also common in journalism and for oral survey methods in science . The terms survey or opinion polls are mainly used in politics or business to obtain representative statements related to groups or the general population. This can also be done orally (e.g. telephone survey) or in writing. An increasingly popular form is the online survey via the Internet .

Importance of surveys

Are surveys a classical instrument of many scientific disciplines, such as the empirical social science , the economics , the formation of science , the psychology , the linguistics ( Sprachatlas , Mundartforschung ), the Folk (informants, oral history ), and in the History ( witnesses , art history, social history) . Interviews are also used in opinion polls and market research in order to obtain a picture of the opinion of a larger population (for example the population of a region or an entire country) on specific topics, issues of the time or products.

The method introduced by the Gallup Institute in the USA in the 1920s received an upswing in importance , in which - unlike before - emphasis was no longer placed on the sheer number of respondents, but on the most representative selection possible.

Forms of survey in the social sciences

The differentiating criterion for the types of survey (as part of a survey ) is primarily the communication medium, while the degree of standardization and structure , in addition to the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research, primarily relates to the questioning technique (type and structure of the questions). Depending on the number of topics in a survey, a distinction is made between special surveys and omnibus surveys .

Depending on the type of communication with the respondents, a distinction is made between personal, telephone, written ("self-administered") and online surveys. Each has its specific advantages and disadvantages.

Personal interview

In face-to-face interviews, an interviewer often visits the person to be interviewed and speaks to him (see also Computer Assisted Personal Interview ). In some face-to-face interview situations, the interviewer also meets the interviewee elsewhere.

  • Advantages: Aids (list templates, picture sheets, possibly product examples) can be used for the survey. Interviewer observations are possible (for example, it is noted on the questionnaire whether the respondent appears committed or disinterested). Personal interviews can be relatively long (guide value: 1–1.5 hours).
  • Disadvantages: Personal surveys are comparatively expensive because material has to be sent out and a network of interviewers, which may be distributed throughout the country, has to be supervised. Leading and instructing the interviewer is therefore complicated and time-consuming. The time between sending the questionnaire to the interviewer and returning the results is relatively long. Computerized personal interviews ( CAPI ) can shorten this time compared to using paper questionnaires.

Telephone interview

  • Advantages: The telephone survey is relatively quick and inexpensive due to the simple interviewer guidance in a call center . Compared to the personal interview, the anonymity is greater. As a result, the respondent's threshold for sensitive questions may be lower.
  • Disadvantages: Less willingness to participate than with a personal survey. Many aids (list templates, card games) cannot be used. Due to the lack of tools and the purely linguistic communication, the interviewee can easily find the interview monotonous or tiring. The interviews have to be significantly shorter than with other types of survey.

Postal or written survey

Written surveys usually take place with a standardized questionnaire .

  • Advantages: Postal surveys are relatively inexpensive, enable high anonymity and simple administration (no interviewers or call centers).
  • Disadvantages: Postal surveys have a low response rate (approx. 5%). In addition, there is hardly any control over environmental influences.

see also Computer Assisted Self Interviewing

Online survey

Until around 2005, online surveys were particularly suitable for surveying members of a special population who have an Internet connection and PC skills (for example, surveys among students, university employees, webmasters).

  • Pros: Online surveys are relatively inexpensive. Computer-aided user guidance avoids interviewer errors. Aids such as picture sheets, lists, etc. are possible. Quick and easy evaluation, short feedback time.
  • Disadvantages: It must be ensured that the respondents cannot take part in the survey more than once. Possible self-selection of the respondents, especially for surveys on websites. Only those Internet users answer who have a special motivation for doing so (comparable to the problem with the postal survey). Unsolicited survey emails can annoy users. The researcher has little control over the respondents (similar to postal surveys).


Representatives of a "relational sociology" criticize the survey research that worked with attribute and attitude data from the 1950s to 1970s. It resembles a “sociological meat grinder that tears the individual out of his social environment and thus guarantees that nobody within the study interacts with anyone else.” However, this criticism no longer applies to newer methods. In addition, it was already one of the fundamental findings of sociology at that time that every survey represents a social interaction that should be evaluated critically.

Forms of questioning of other related sciences

  • Psychology and social psychology: In addition to experiments and other observation techniques, scientific psychology continues to work predominantly with validated , statistically evaluable, detailed questionnaires. The social psychology often used standardized interviews . Exploratory, open interviews prepare these.
  • In biography research , detailed scientific interviews document the life courses of certain population groups in order to be able to examine successful or problematic individual behaviors, mentalities and social developments in more detail. Particularly in criminology (juvenile delinquency, intensive offenders, violence prevention) the urgent need and relevance of such research is immediately obvious.
  • In gender research, different types of interviews work out the specific differences in behavior and habitus between men and women and different subgroups of the same.

Journalism / media

Surveys are also carried out in journalism and public relations . The relevant journalistic forms of presentation are called interviews , surveys or Vox pop .

For surveys among larger target groups, the term “poll”, especially “annual poll”, is also used, especially in marketing .


Quantitative survey

  • Bernad Batinic , Andreas Werner , Lorenz Gräf and Wolfgang Bandilla (Eds.): Online Research. Methods, applications and results. Göttingen 1999
  • Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Thomas Petersen: Everyone, not everyone. Berlin 2005
  • Rainer Schnell , Paul B. Hill and Elke Esser: Methods of empirical social research. 7th edition. Munich 2005
  • Jürgen Bortz and Nicola Döring: Research methods and evaluation . Berlin 2006
  • Richard Geml and Hermann Lauer: Marketing and Sales Lexicon. 4th edition, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-7910-2798-2
  • Wiebke Möhring and Daniela Schlütz: The survey in media and communication studies: a practice-oriented introduction. 2nd, completely revised edition. VS-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-53116994-1 .
  • Rainer Schnell: Survey interviews: methods of standardized surveys. 1st edition. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2012. ISBN 978-3-531-13614-1
  • Michael Höfele: The identity card application at the registration offices as a selection method for local population surveys. 1st edition. Norderstedt 2014, ISBN 978-3-732-25421-7

Humanities and Social Sciences

  • Alexander Bogner: The expert interview: theory, method, application . Leske + Budrich. Opladen 2002. ISBN 3-8100-3200-X
  • Jochen Gläser and Grit Laudel: Expert interviews and qualitative content analysis: instruments for reconstructive investigations . 1st edition. UTB. Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8252-2348-5
  • Cornelia Helfferich: The quality of qualitative data: Manual for conducting qualitative interviews. 1st edition. VS. Wiesbaden 2004. ISBN 3-8100-3756-7
  • Rolf Porst: Questionnaire - A work book (2nd edition). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2009. ISBN 978-3531164359

human Resource

  • Werner Sarges: Applicant interviews and employee appraisals: bottleneck exploration. In: B. Voss (Ed.): Communication and behavior training. Göttingen 1995. Publishing house for applied psychology. Pp. 136-156
  • Gerald Richter: What does the structured recruitment interview measure? Studies on the construct validity of the multimodal interview . Dissertation 2003 ( abstract )
  • UP Kanning: Standards of Personnel Diagnostics . Hogrefe. Göttingen 2004


  • Herbert P. Ginsburg, Susan F. Jacobs and Luz Stella Lopez: The Teacher's Guide to Flexible Interviewing in the Classroom. Learning what Children know about Math . Allyn & Bacon. Needham Heights 1998, ISBN 0-205-26567-7

Individual evidence

  1. Allan Barton 1968 cit. according to Linton C. Freeman (2004), The Development of Social Network Analysis , Vancouver: Empirical Press, German translation: Jörg Raab, Der "Harvard Breakthrough" , in: Christian Stegbauer, Roger Häußling (Ed.) (2010), handbook Network research , Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, p. 29
  2. ^ Keyword interview in the dictionary of sociology , edited by Wilhelm Bernsdorf , Fischer Hand Bücher , paperback edition with permission from Enke-Verlag 1972, Volume 2, page 397
  3. Axel Buchholz: Survey / Vox pop. In: Gerhard Schult / Axel Buchholz (eds.): TV journalism. A Manual for Education and Practice. With video journalism. Journalistic Practice Series , 8th edition Berlin (Econ) 2011.