What’s the difference between a survey and a questionnaire?

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

Survey vs Questionnaire: Differences and Definitions

A questionnaire is used to collect data from a list of questions. It’s not used to look for trends, behavior or a bigger picture.

A survey is data collection through a set of questions for the purposes of statistical analysis

Cement and concrete. Poisonous and venomous. Shrimp and prawn.

Survey and questionnaire.

There’s 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 detail, and you see that they are actually very different.

Exactly why these words are used as synonyms for one another isn’t exactly clear, but in most cases, it’s not really a big deal.

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 it doesn’t impact the message.

But all is different when it comes to surveys and questionnaires. And the need for clarity is crucial if you’re the person reaching out for information.

For marketers, managers, and researchers—they are two different beasts.

What's the difference between a survey and a questionnaire?

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

To put it simply—a questionnaire is a list of written questions aimed at getting information about individuals. A questionnaire is usually limited in scope, and it isn’t used for gathering data or analyzing statistics. 

survey involves gathering data to use for analysis and forecasting. As opposed to its questionnaire cousin, the data isn’t analyzed in isolation. Surveys do look for trends, behavior, and the bigger picture.

Here’s another way to put it:

questionnaire is one-purpose data collection through a set of questions

survey is data collection through a set of questions for the purposes of statistical analysis

The definition of a questionnaire

Here’s an example of a questionnaire.

Flashback to the last time you joined a gym, maybe you went for a health check when you signed up. You would have been asked to answer a list of specific questions about medical history.

That was a questionnaire.

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

The definition of a survey

Think of a survey as a major project, aimed at using data to reach informed conclusions.

Yes, that’s right—a survey could be regarded as a questionnaire on steroids.

With a survey, you can dig deeper and find out peoples’ opinions and ideas. You can ask demographic survey questions, you can find out how engaged your employees are, or you can do market research. And much more.

Why do people mix up the two?

Well, it’s simple—they’re very similar. In fact, a big part of any survey involves a questionnaire.

Marketing professionals and research specialists have always differentiated the two, but things have changed since the advent of the Internet.

As more individuals and organizations started to manage their own research projects, the two terms became interchangeable.

“Survey” has become a synonym for “questionnaire”—and vice versa.

Now, just 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.

Why the differences matter

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

Let’s go back to gym memberships.

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 stated you have a medical condition, that questionnaire is placed in your file—until such time as it’s needed.

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

Simply filing that piece of paper away wouldn’t achieve anything—the answers on it 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.

You’ll get by with a little help from your friends

Still feeling in the dark about surveys and questionnaires?

You don’t need to worry. Whether you need to gather information to increase employee engagement or learn more about your customers, help is at hand.

Use a simple questionnaire maker and give your questionnaire the best possible start.

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

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.

How you ask is everything.