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Survey vs. questionnaire: What’s the difference?

Get savvy on surveys and qualified in questionnaires. Learn the difference, boost your business.

Woman fills out a survey on her phone.

Cement vs. concrete. Poisonous vs. venomous. Shrimp vs. prawn.

Survey vs. questionnaire. 

There are a ton of words in English that people mistake for synonyms. Although these words have different meanings, they tend to be used interchangeably. But delve into the details, and you see that they’re actually very different. 

Surveys and questionnaires are a great example of this. There are a few differences between them, such as sample sizes and whether or not you’re looking to report and analyze data. In this article, we’ll dive into the key differences between a survey and questionnaire every marketer, manager, and researcher should know.

Survey vs. questionnaire: Differences and definitions

A survey collects data about a group of people so you can analyze and forecast trends about that group. As opposed to its questionnaire cousin, the data isn’t analyzed in isolation. Surveys look for trends, behavior, or a bigger picture rather than individual insights.

A questionnaire collects data about individuals from a list of questions. It’s not used to look for trends, behavior, or a bigger picture. A questionnaire is usually limited in scope, and it isn’t used for gathering data or analyzing statistics. 

Here’s another way to put it:

  • A questionnaire is a single-purpose data collection through a set of questions.

  • A survey is data collection using a set of questions for statistical analysis.

In the average person’s daily life, it’s not really a big deal to use "survey" and "questionnaire" interchangeably. But why? Well, sometimes because the context clears things up. Other times, the difference is so subtle the mishap goes unnoticed and unpunished, and so confusing the two terms doesn’t impact the message.

But these differences matter when it comes to surveys and questionnaires. Clarity is crucial if you’re the person reaching out for information. For marketers, managers, and researchers, these terms are two different beasts.

Once you have a handle on precisely what each does and doesn’t do, you’ll never mix them up again.

What is a survey?

If you’ve ever been handed a slip of paper asking for feedback after enjoying a dinner out, then you’re familiar with surveys. 

Think of a survey as a major project that uses a larger dataset to analyze trends in that dataset. With a survey, you can dig deeper and find out peoples’ opinions and ideas. You can ask demographic survey questions, determine how engaged your employees are, conduct market research, and much more.

What is a questionnaire?

Flashback to the last time you joined a gym. Maybe you opted for a health check when you signed up. If so, you’d have been asked to answer a list of specific questions about your medical history.

That was a questionnaire.

The information you provide is used to assess risk, help with diagnoses, and paint a picture of your personal medical history. It’s not used to look for trends, behavior, or paint a bigger picture.

When to use a survey vs. questionnaire

So, when all is said and done, does any of this matter? Who even cares about the terminology?

Let’s go back to the gym membership example.

When you answer all those questions about heart problems, fainting, and diabetes, your answers aren’t used to assess the health of local people in the area. Unless you reveal you have a medical condition, that questionnaire is placed in your file—until it’s needed.

But what if that medical questionnaire were being used as part of a large-scale medical research program?

Simply filing that piece of paper away wouldn’t achieve anything—the answers on it would have to be collated and merged with the answers given by other people.

And this is when the questionnaire becomes part of a survey. There’s a need to turn that raw data into actionable intelligence, which requires aggregation, analysis, and the identification of statistical trends.

Now, to dial your level of confusion up to 11, there’s also such a thing as a survey questionnaire. It starts as a simple questionnaire but later transforms into a survey—mindblown.

Imagine you’re trying to gauge how your employees feel about working with you. By using Likert scale questionnaires, you can ask people to express their feelings on a scale of, say, one to five. Then, by aggregating the scores, you can get an overall picture of satisfaction levels within your organization.

Let’s talk through some common situations where you might need to gather data and how you can choose between using a survey versus a questionnaire.

Building your pipeline

Surveys and questionnaires have their own purposes, so how do you decide which is right for what you need to accomplish?

Questionnaires are better suited for when you need quick data intake. Looking to gather contact information for new clients? A questionnaire is a great way to get everything you need.

Surveys are better for gathering large sets of data to interpret and pull trends from. Looking to create a report analyzing the behaviors of your top-converting prospects for some target audience research? A survey can help you spot and analyze big-picture trends.

Collecting data

Both surveys and questionnaires work for data collection, depending on what you want to do with that data.

Surveys are typically employed when you need to collect large amounts of data about groups of people, while questionnaires are better suited for smaller groups or collecting data about individuals.

Are you trying to gather info on which new benefits your employees want the most? A survey will do. What about helping your employees set goals for the next quarter? Try a questionnaire.

Data analysis

Surveys are the clear winner if you need to conduct data analysis. Think about a medical questionnaire—it’s helpful if you’re trying to evaluate a single patient’s health history, but you can’t use it to inform public health decisions. 

A survey is built to make it easier to gather data about a large group of people, relying on qualitative data so you can pull patterns from responses at a glance. Questionnaires typically gather quantitative data, so they tell you a lot about an individual, but are too complicated for data analysis.

Perfect your surveys and questionnaires with Typeform

We’ve covered everything you need to know about using a survey vsersus a questionnaire to gather the data you need. But how do you get started?

You don’t need to worry. Whether you need to gather information to gather customer feedback or learn more about your customers, help is at hand. Use a simple survey maker and give your survey the best possible start.

Remember that you need to ask the right questions—and in the right way, to get the best answers.

Typeform captures your participants’ attention and keeps them engaged, guiding them through your survey or questionnaire one step at a time. Conditional logic allows a customized experience for each respondent, helping you dive deeper and gather more data—without creating more surveys. And you never have to worry about security because Typeforms are PCI, HIPAA, and WCAG 2.1 compliant.

Questionnaire or survey, out-of-the-blue conversational data collection is the best way to increase engagement rates—and give your business the information it needs to grow.

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