How to Select the Best Mode for a Survey: Mode

How to Select the Best Mode for a Survey: Mode

Michelle Fechtor, the former Director of Survey at Coleman Research Group, leads a global team from Coleman’s New York headquarters. She has worked with Coleman for almost five years to grow and develop a unique survey offering that benefits clients in management consulting, investment management, corporate, and market research. This post introduces a six-part blog series on How to Select the Best Mode for a Survey. The series on mode selection covers the following six questions, which will be explored in depth:

1. What is a mode?
2. Who is the audience?
3. What is the target sample size?
4. What is needed in the questionnaire?
5. What is the project timeline?
6. What are the main project goals?

What is a mode?

Recently, a technician came to my new apartment to set up my internet. Less than a week later, as I waited to board an Amtrak train, my phone rang. Out of habit (and desperation to mentally remove myself from the depths of Penn station), I answered it. An automated voice asked me about my recent experience with my internet installation. As someone who runs surveys daily, I was intrigued enough to participate.

To me, the call was novel. I had never experienced a robo-survey. While I’m sure this works for mass audiences and short, fixed questionnaires, Coleman’s survey client base focuses on niche audiences and custom questionnaires. The experience highlighted, though, how each survey mode has relative merits.

An Overview of Common Modes

A survey mode is a data collection method. It is one aspect of the survey methodology, which more broadly includes all the principles regarding design, data collection, processing, and analysis. Think of mode as the interface through which the respondents are interviewed.

Most survey research efforts are conducted through one or more of the modes below:

1. Web/mobile surveys, now commonly used due to cost efficiencies and increased access to respondents through the internet
2. Telephone interview, conducted by a trained moderator. Nowadays, moderators often use a programmed link to input the data on the respondent’s behalf
3. Mail surveys, now less common due to rising costs and dwindling response rates
4. Face-to-face interviews, the most expensive mode, which are frequently reserved for long-term projects with ample funding

These are just some of the basics, and it’s common to leverage multiple modes to complete one survey. At Coleman, we run both web (online) and computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) surveys. We do our best to meet the unique objectives of each project, providing our highest level of feasibility and quality possible.

With so many options, how do you know which one to use?

To decide which mode best fits the project, we consider a few questions:

1. Who is the audience?
2. What is the target sample size?
3. What is needed in the questionnaire?
4. What is the project timeline?
5. What are the main project goals?

Since there is no “one size fits all” model when it comes to data collection, it’s important to select the best mode for the project. In the coming posts, we will explore each of these questions in depth.