Whether you want to check out customer satisfaction after an event, conduct some market research or run a quick poll to create a news story, a questionnaire is an invaluable tool in business. With so much free or low-cost online survey software available, plus companies and services that recruit and organise respondents to survey, online surveys are particularly cheap and easy to run. However, there are a number of disadvantages to this approach, as well as the obvious advantages.
The main advantage of online surveys is that they are very cheap to run. Free software such as Surveymonkey enables you to build your survey, based on a wide variety of question formats, and collect responses. Surveymonkey also gives hints and tips about how best to construct questionnaires. Online surveys allow you to reach a very large number of potential respondents at a fraction of the price of a postal survey or telephone survey.
Response rates to online surveys can be high, providing they are not too long. This is because people can complete them in their own time, rather than being interrupted by someone on the telephone. However, there can be difficulties in reaching a wide enough sample for some surveys. Respondents are necessarily people who not only have computers, but are used to using them. They are also people who are comfortable reading large amounts of text on-screen.
The lack of interviewer in an online survey is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A benefit is that, without an interviewer, people are often more honest in the way that they answer questions. A disadvantage is that they is no way to clarify some answers or to delve more deeply with follow-up questions.
One of the biggest disadvantages of online surveys is the possibility of survey "fraud" or cheating. This can happen when there is a financial incentive, however small, to complete the survey. Respondents can answer multiple surveys, often ticking random boxes, in order to claim the incentive. This reduces the reliability of the data. Some online survey software will now discount respondents who fill in the same number of letter for each answer, and you are advised to include several "open" questions in which respondents have to type in their answer, rather than just ticking a box.