Survey vs Questionnaire – What’s the Right Choice for You?

October 30, 2020

Many people, including some professional researchers, use the words survey and questionnaire synonymously. But, there is a difference between the two terms.

In some cases, using these two words interchangeably isn’t such a big deal because the context usually clears things up.

However, in other cases, a subtle mishap like that can impact the message. That’s why it’s important for researchers, managers, and marketers to have clarity when talking about surveys and questionnaires.

In this article, we dig deeper into the meaning of each word so you can understand how and when to use each.

What Is the Difference Between a Survey and a Questionnaire?

The main difference between the two is that a questionnaire is a written set of questions, whereas a survey includes the questions (that is, the questionnaire), and the collection, aggregation, and analysis of the responses to the questions.

Questionnaire: A questionnaire is used for collecting information about individuals from a list of questions. It is limited in its scope and is not used to analyze statistics, find trends, look at behavior, or to study the bigger picture.

Survey: A survey, on the other hand, uses a set of questions to collect data for the purpose of statistical analysis. It is used for gathering data to use for forecasting. Unlike the questionnaire, survey data is not analyzed in isolation, and surveys help to find trends, behavior, and to look at the big picture.



In other words, a questionnaire refers to content, while the term survey is broader, and encompasses content, the method of delivery for the questionnaire, and analysis of the responses.

So now you understand the distinction between the words survey and questionnaire, and that the two terms cannot be used interchangeably. Let’s take a look at when you should use a survey as opposed to a questionnaire.

When to Use a Survey vs. a Questionnaire

There are certain times when a business would benefit most from using online survey software, and other times when they would benefit most from questionnaires. Here are some examples of when to use each, and why.

When to Use a Survey:

A survey is a better option than a questionnaire if you want feedback from respondents. A survey allows you to aggregate data from multiple survey participants so you can make general conclusions pertaining to your results.

Example of a Survey: In a sense, a survey is a questionnaire, but the way it is designed and implemented, as well as the way the survey results are analyzed impact the results of the survey as much as the questions asked.

An example of the survey is a customer satisfaction survey (online, email, or paper) that a business uses to get actionable feedback from their clients so they can provide better service.

When to Use a Questionnaire:

Standalone questionnaires don’t have a great many use cases. You can use them for building your email list, collecting personal accounts for research projects, or for accepting donations or payments.

Example of a Questionnaire: When you last visited the doctor, you were likely asked to fill in a form with specific questions about your medical history. That is an example of a questionnaire.

The doctor used the information you provided to assess risk, make a diagnosis, and get a picture of your medical history. But, he did not use it to look for behavior, trends, or a bigger picture.

I personally create questionnaires in my business prior to creating an online course.  I do this to better understand what my audience likes and what their experiences have been in the past with other sources.  Doing this has led to some amazing insights that have proven to be very valuable.

5 Common Mistakes When Writing Surveys and Questionnaires

Although the majority of researchers and marketers can create an effective survey, sometimes small issues can find their way into the questionnaire and compromise the quality of the survey, resulting in misleading results.

Below are five common mistakes that you should avoid when writing surveys and questionnaires.

1. Writing Leading Questions

Leading the respondent is among the most common survey mistakes. The issue arises when adjectives are used that can sway the reader to either side of the argument.  This is a common problem because organizations usually spend time creating user personas and then they try to write the questions with those people in mind.

Leading questions include non-neutral wording and they tend to inflate ratings in various aspects like product research and customer satisfaction when used in market research surveys.

Example of a leading question: How likely are you to purchase our newly designed, top of the range smart speaker?”

The problem with this question is the use of the adjectives “newly designed” and “top of the range” which can cause bias.

A better option would be to use those words in the product or concept descriptions, but not in the survey question itself.

Another example of a leading survey question that can ruin your data is a question such as: “How has the Coronavirus negatively impacted businesses?

A better question would be: How would you describe the impact of the Coronavirus on businesses?

2. Using Unclear Jargon or Acronyms

Another mistake that survey creators make is using industry jargon or acronyms that respondents may not understand. 

Unclear language can hurt the quality of replies and render your results inaccurate. You must speak your respondents’ language to ensure that you don’t confuse anyone taking part in your survey. Also, make sure your grammar is perfect and the way you convey the message is clear. 

The easier it is to answer your questions, the more likely it is that respondents will complete your survey. So do your best to avoid any tricky concepts, technical jargon, and complicated language. 

If you have to include any uncommon terms, always provide definitions and examples to make things easier for your readers.

Example of an unclear question:What was the state of the audio of the call?

Example of a clear question:How would you describe the call?

As you can see from the examples above, the same question can be asked in a much simpler and clearer way, making it more likely that everyone will be able to answer the question easily.

3. Making Your Survey Too Long

People’s attention spans are very short these days and participants usually don’t want to spend more than a few minutes answering questions.

If your survey has more than a few questions, there’s a chance that you will lose your readers’ initial commitment to complete the survey. Your respondents will either leave the survey unfinished or they will give random answers simply to get it over with.

That’s why it’s important to choose the quality of your questions rather than using a huge quantity of questions to gather the information you need. For example, customer satisfaction is usually measured with Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is simply a one question survey.

Do your best to keep your survey as short and precise as possible. Research shows that over 72% of survey respondents want to spend only 6-10 minutes on a survey.

The more questions in the survey, the higher the response times, and the less likely the respondents are to complete the survey.

Questions count relation with response times


A good rule of thumb is to use fewer than 10 questions, but if necessary you can push it up to 15. Try to not go upward of this number as there will be a higher likelihood that your respondents will abandon your survey before they get to the end.

I’ve personally used short 2-3 question surveys on my YouTube channel to steer my content strategy for my audience multiple times.  Not only has this led to more income from YouTube, but it’s also led to quite a bit more engagement from my followers. By the way, if you are having trouble with connecting to Youtube or other streaming platforms due to your location, there are multiple services that can help you with this, such as Netflix VPN

4. Overlapping or Unclear Response Options

This is yet another mistake that you should avoid when creating surveys. For the most part, response choices should be definitive and mutually exclusive. If there is any ambiguity, it will confuse or frustrate your survey respondents.

For instance, if you have a survey that asks your customers how many years they have been a customer, you may give them the following options:

  • 1 – 2
  • 2 – 5
  • 5 – 10

The problem with this is that the options don’t take into account those who have been customers for less than a year, as well as those who have been with your business for over 10 years. 

Also, because of the overlap of time, you will potentially get different answers from those who have been customers for exactly 2 or 5 years. This will result in inaccurate and misleading results. 

To avoid this issue, you can add more granularity to your options. Alternatively, you can use number fill-ins whenever appropriate.

5. Vague and Open-Ended Questions

Last on our list of survey mistakes to avoid is the use of vague and open-ended questions which can lead to respondents misinterpreting what information you are looking for. 

If your respondents have to guess what response your studies are looking for, then that amounts to a wasted opportunity. 

A vague question like “How can we improve our service?” may result in many respondents taking the question in an unintended direction. Likewise, open-ended questions could result in inaccurate results due to a number of factors, such as:

  • Faster respondent fatigue
  • Higher dropout rates
  • Less consideration given to questions

Open-ended questions can be revealing, and while it may be necessary to include some in your survey, it’s important not to include too many of them as this may ultimately compromise the quality of your data. 

One last side note, if you have data that you’re trying to safeguard, whether it be a survey or questionnaire, I recommend that you make a copy of it on your own computer as a backup.  I do this myself to make sure that I have a copy just in case the platform you’re using has issues and if that redundancy fails you, you can always use data recovery software.


You now have the answer to the question “Is a questionnaire the same as a survey?” And now that you have a good understanding of what each one does and does not do, you will never get them mixed up again.  Correct usage of these tools can lead to increased revenue for your blog or business overall, and it’s important to remember the lessons learned within this article to do so.  

To give you a quick recap, a questionnaire is a list of written questions that allows you to collect data for one purpose, while a survey includes the questions, as well as the method and analysis to glean statistical data and make forecasts. You can use surveys and questionnaires on various social media platforms to get to know your audience in a better way.  For best results on social media, you can also use tools like Twitter marketing tools, LinkedIn marketing tools, etc.

Armed with this information, you can now make the best choice for your business and begin gathering information to help you make sound decisions for your future marketing endeavors.

Have you used questionnaires or surveys to gather information for your business? Share your experience in the comments below!

This post was written and contributed by Ron Stefanski of OneHourProfessor.

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