Paper or Pixels? Paper vs Online Surveys

When it comes to collecting feedback, should you be using paper or pixels for your surveying – engaging with the brave new world of the web, or staying with traditional pens and paper? They each have their benefits and drawbacks – we explore them today.

The E-Survey Revolution

There are many practical aspects of online surveys that simply make sense. The benefits of online surveys include:

Lower Cost: Paper surveys must be printed, posted, received and collated, and have their data entered and coded for analysis. Web-based surveys either eliminate or significantly reduce the time and cost associated with these activities.

Speed: Just about every activity associated with online surveys can be completed more quickly than paper-based surveys. Surveys can be distributed and completed online instantly with a few clicks of your mouse. In addition, coding can be built into the survey, making data export and analysis much easier.

Improved control surfaces: Web based surveys can make use of a variety of question types, such as using drop-down lists and radio buttons. Also, free text ‘Please elaborate’ boxes make it easier for respondents to express themselves. These simplify the interface and make responding to surveys so much simpler.

Accuracy of data input: Entering paper-based survey data, of both the multiple choice, ‘check all that apply’ and subjective text-based feedback, must be done by humans, and as such can be prone to error prone. Web-based surveys remove this point of instability in data collection – any error is made by the respondent alone.

Paper-Based Surveys Aren’t Dead Though

Paper-based surveys have their own advantages. These are not ‘either/or’ conditions, but you can learn from the advantages of paper-based surveys in order to design better web-based surveys.

Confidentiality assurance: While most respondents are not tech-savvy enough to understand the actual means by which survey responses can be tracked, they are probably aware that computers can do a lot of things they don’t understand. While we can be confident that an unnamed piece of paper placed into a box is relatively untraceable, respondents often have concerns over confidentiality with web-based surveys. As such, when running online surveys it is often advisable to assure your respondents that you completely de-identify all information gathered.

Mobility/ease of transport of paper surveys: paper-based surveys can be particularly useful for those respondents who do not have easy access to a PC, for example field staff who are always on the move. In these situations it’s much easier for them to take the paper survey and complete it in their own time. In particular, for situations in which providing feedback online is not possible (such as customers providing restaurants feedback), paper surveys can be distributed and are a handy way to collect data/

The upshot of the comparison is that while e-surveys certainly trump paper in all the most important aspects, it is important to be aware of their inherent limitations and the ways that you can overcome them. Where a paper survey may be needed, it’s worth considering having an online version alongside it to have more flexibility in gathering your all-important data.

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