The Difference Between Survey and Questionnaire


A questionnaire is the term used to describe the set of questions you’re asking an individual. A survey is the process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from many individuals. It aims to determine insights about a group of people. A survey goes much deeper than a questionnaire and often involves more than one form of data collection.


You’re probably here wondering about the difference between surveys and questionnaires. You might be asking about the difference between questionnaires vs. surveys due to a school project. Or, you might be looking this up from a business perspective. It’s easy to get the two words mixed up.

The terms ‘survey’ and ‘questionnaire’ are often (wrongly) used interchangeably. This is because people frequently view them as meaning the same thing. Some explanations surrounding the difference between questionnaires and surveys can be incorrect. Otherwise, they can be downright confusing. When conducting any form of research, it’s important to understand the difference.

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide. We’re here to help you define questionnaires and surveys in simple terms. This article will identify differences between surveys and questionnaires using real world examples. This is always helpful when it comes to putting things into context.

The difference may seem confusing at first, but don’t worry. We’re here to answer your questions and define these research terms, helping you get to grips with the lingo.

Why is it important to understand the difference?

When undertaking any form of research, you’ll be interacting with members of the public. These are also known as your participants. Participants may be selected from a target sample, or randomly chosen on the street. Either way, the researcher must understand the meaning behind phrases they’re using.

Once you understand these two terms, you’re more likely to be able to collect data successfully. Simplicity is everything when explaining what you need from participants. Explaining the difference between a survey and questionnaire is no different.

What is a questionnaire?

Questionnaire definition

A questionnaire is the set of questions given to participants of your research project. It may be part of a wider survey. However, the completion of a questionnaire alone will not provide the answers you are looking for.

The purpose of a questionnaire is to gather data from a target audience. It will include open ended questions, closed ended questions, or a combination of both.

As participants fill out a questionnaire, they’re giving valuable titbits of data. The data collected can be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data is numerical and measurable. Qualitative data is non-numerical, written information that should be analyzed further.

The individual results from one questionnaire will tell you information about one participant. The sole act of administering a questionnaire is not considered to be a survey. This is because the data gathered from questionnaires only becomes valuable once interpreted as part of a wider survey.

It might be useful for you to picture the questionnaire as a physical sheet of paper itself. There are many other ways of administering questionnaires, such as online. But, envisioning the questionnaire as the paper containing all the questions is an easy way to define it.

To help you understand how questionnaires can be used in a research context, we’ve outlined an example below. Read on to delve further into the world of surveys and questionnaires. We’ll explain about what a survey is in more depth further down in the article.

Questionnaire in research example

Let’s picture a scenario… Your boss wants you to begin working from home. They want to find out more about the technology requirements you need to work efficiently from home.

They then invite you to fill out a questionnaire by handing you a piece of paper and a pen. The piece of paper handed to you is the questionnaire.

The results that you input into the questionnaire are used to discover information about you as an individual, rather than a group of people.

What is a survey?

Survey definition

A survey is the combination of questions, processes and methodologies that analyze data about others. A survey always involves questionnaires. But, a single questionnaire is only one small part of a survey.

Typically organized for a professional or academic purpose, creating a survey can take time and requires great care. They are strategic methods of research that can provide us with great insights. Collecting or interpreting data incorrectly can reduce the validity of results. This means the entire survey becomes a wasted effort. Surveys are costly to conduct, so it’s essential to get everything right.

The ultimate purpose of a survey is to find out more about a certain group of people. This is done for many reasons. For example, businesses use surveys to find out more about how specific consumers behave. Doctors may also use them to undertake medical research.

So, we now know the questionnaire is the set of questions given to individuals. A questionnaire is not automatically part of a survey. For a questionnaire to become a survey, a few things must happen. The data collected from many questionnaire respondents is gathered. It should then be organized, before analysis and interpretation of the data.

The entire process of doing this is a survey. Our definition of a survey doesn’t make complete sense. So, we’ve added an example of how a survey is used within a research context underneath.

Survey in research example

We’ll take a look back at the example we used when discussing questionnaires earlier. Let’s assume the questionnaire was used as primary research for a company-wide survey. This survey aims to find out about people’s working from home experiences. The survey isn’t focused on only your own experiences, but those of the whole workforce.

We filled out the questionnaire with our personal information, so it means very little when considered on its own. It would not help your company determine more about the whole workforce. That is, until it’s combined with many other questionnaires as part of a survey.

The process of administering questionnaires is not a survey. Collecting the data, gathering it in a useful (quantitative) way, and combining it with other forms of data collection, is a survey.

In conclusion: surveys vs. questionnaires

We hope this article helped you understand the difference between questionnaires and surveys. To sharpen things up that little bit further, here’s a more concise conclusion of the differences.

A questionnaire is…

Not a survey in itself, but it is a part of a survey. Questionnaires are the actual set of questions that the participants answer.

Think of the questionnaire as the physical sheet of questions. A questionnaire on its own is unlikely to give you all the answers needed for your research. This is because it only gathers pure data from one individual, rather than a group.

It’s the collection of many sets of data from various questionnaires, combined with other factors, that lead to good, complete research. These other factors might include observations, and the insightful analysis of information. This is what a survey is.

A survey is…

The process of using questionnaires and other data collection methods to find out more about a specific group.

The data collected is then organized into quantifiable sets of data for analysis. This may include organizing quantitative data, such as numbers or statistics. It can also involve re-defining qualitative answers (descriptive, emotional responses) into quantitative factors.

This organized data is then analyzed as a whole. Interpreting the data collected can lead to great insights. These insights tell us more about how a specific target audience may behave or feel.

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