Choosing between interviews and surveys for your study?

By Kinjal Aacha & Priya Chetty on October 26, 2022

The data from interviews and surveys is a collection of first-hand data for a specific research objective (Jung, 2020). This also means that the data is gathered from the original source in the form of recording the public’s opinion through interviews and surveys.

Researchers commonly use primary data, particularly in theses and dissertations. Collecting first-hand data provides reliability and novelty to research. It also helps to prove the hypothesis. However, a common dilemma researchers face in deciding their thesis or dissertation methodology is which type of primary data to use. Each type of primary data has different strengths and weaknesses, and its suitability depends upon many factors.

Characteristics and suitability of interview in a thesis

Interviews are exploratory, goal-driven, open-ended questions. They are used when the research problem is not specifically defined. Prominent scenarios where the interview technique is used are:

  • When the aim is to research in-detailed and in-depth. This helps in getting a better explanation, understanding and exploring the views.  
  • When the researcher wants to gather an accurate and richer source of information from a small number of individuals. The interview technique helps receive detailed information from a small number of individuals.
  • When the investigator wants to know about the respondent’s feelings, behaviour, preferences, attitude, knowledge, and opinions (Weatherall, 2019).

Characteristics and suitability of survey in a thesis

On the other hand, the survey technique is suitable for explanatory studies where the aim is to explain why some phenomena work in a specific way (Moser and Kalton, 2017). It helps in making predictions. Surveys involve data collection from many people with the help of a questionnaire. They allow the investigator to gather a large amount of data. They are free from discrimination and are comparatively cheaper. It is suitable when the aim is to:

  • Analyze the impact of one factor on another.
  • Assess new trends, opinions, and market demands with a low budget.
  • Investigate the behaviour and characteristics of a group of people.

Surveys are also highly representative, generalisable and convenient. The below figure shows the factors to consider while deciding on an approach.

Deciding to choose an interviews and surveys for a study
Figure 1: Deciding to choose interviews and surveys for a study

To find out how employees of a company behave, a survey of employees is suitable. To know why they behave in a particular way, an interview with managers is more suitable. Both techniques can also be used together where required.

Difference between interviews and surveys

The below table summarises how interviews and surveys are applied differently in a thesis on the basis of certain factors.

Type of ResearchThis technique is used in exploratory research. The interview technique helps get data in-depth with insight into the participants’ thoughts, actions, and attitudes (Kallio et. al. 2016).  This is preferred for explanatory studies. A survey questionnaire helps get evidence of the pattern from a large number of people.
Aim Aims to gain a better idea and insight concerning the subject area. It is a reliable tool for capturing complex information on the participants’ thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.Suitable for assessing the impact of one variable on another. It is ideal for getting simple data regarding numerical or short text forms.
Time  Information can be gathered on a real-time basis and within a short period. Also, in this one person can be interviewed at a single time.Respondents fill out the questionnaire on their own time. However, the questionnaire can be distributed to multiple people at once (Heeringa et. al. 2017).
Sample size  Reliable with a low sample size (Ideally 6-8).Suitable for collecting data from a large population.
Advantages  Interviews are subjective. Open-ended questions provide analytical information. Also, the order of the questions can be changed (Nguyen, 2019).The benefits of this method are that it provides factual information and the response is high. It can cover a larger geographic region.  
Difference between interviews and surveys


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  • Moser, C.A. and Kalton, G., 2017. Survey methods in social investigation. Routledge.
  • Nguyen, T.T.M., 2019. Data collection methods in L2 pragmatics research: An overview. The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition and pragmatics, pp.195-211.
  • Ventinilla, J.M., 2019. THESIS SIGNATURE PAGE (Doctoral dissertation, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY SAN MARCOS).
  • Weatherall, R., 2019. Writing the doctoral thesis differently. Management Learning50(1), pp.100-113.

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