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Personal Interview Surveys vs. Web Surveys: A Comparison

After you have determined your survey design (see related article) – including establishing informational goals of the survey, how you will use or apply the information to your organization, and defining the sample population – you need to choose your interviewing methodology.

This tutorial will compare personal interview surveys to Web surveys. However, both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages, so you must carefully assess your specific needs before deciding which method you will implement.

Personal Interview Surveys

Personal Interview surveys are recommended when your desired sample consists of respondents in a very specific target population. For example, if you are interested in surveying respondents about a film they have just viewed, it would be significantly easier to find them outside a movie theater than by mail. In addition, interviewers have the ability to extensively probe respondents on their impressions of a service or product, observe individual or group behavior, and this method allows for the exchange of material and/or information between respondent and interviewer (see “personal interviews” section of related article).

Advantages of this method include: response rates are very good; respondents have the ability to see, feel and/or taste a product; longer interviews are sometimes tolerated; and attitudinal behavior can be best observed with this method.

Disadvantages of this method include: it is very expensive; it can be time-consuming if travel is involved; and a non-representative sample may result if the respondents from the location where the interviewing takes place does not match with the desired target population.

The Bottom Line

Survey efforts that would benefit most from a personal interview survey are those requiring a sample of respondents within a very specific target population. The survey effort will have a focus on capturing attitudinal behavior, and the ability to extensively probe respondents on their responses.

Web Surveys

Surveying via the Web is rapidly gaining popularity for data collection efforts focusing on segments of the Internet user population. Whether to implement a personal interview survey vs. a Web survey relies largely on the target population in your survey effort: Web surveys will go to Internet users only, while personal interview surveys will focus on the in-depth attitudes of a very specific target population.

Advantages of Web surveys include: faster speed of responses, substantially reduced cost, and increased respondent flexibility. A survey posted on a popular Web site can collect thousands of responses in just a few hours. Further, once setup is completed, there is virtually no cost associated with a web survey; therefore, data from both large and small samples cost the same to process. In addition, Web surveys are a great tool if you want to target a specific population, such as other businesses in your industry or internal employee attitudes.

Disadvantages of Web surveys include: they typically do not reflect the general population; respondent survey completion rates are lower for longer surveys; and random respondents – outside of your target population – may reply if your survey appears on a Web page without password protection or other means of controlling access.

The Bottom Line

Survey efforts that may benefit most from a Web survey are those requiring a sample of a specific Internet user population, with the ability to keep costs low and analyze data rapidly.

Which Type of Survey Should I Choose?

Use the comparison chart below to help you decide whether personal interview surveys or Web surveys are best suited to your specific needs:

Type of Survey




Personal Interview Survey
  • Frequently used to gauge attitudinal behavior
  • Very good response rates
  • Longer interviews tolerated
  • Very expensive
  • Time-consuming
  • May produce a non-representative sample
  • Very specific target population that has interest in a particular service or product
Web Survey
  • Very low cost
  • Extremely fast
  • Complex questioning assures better data
  • Anonymity of respondents results in more honest answers to sensitive topics
  • Respondents provide more detail to open-ended questions.
  • Survey software simplifies compilation and analysis of data collected.
  • Do not reflect population as a whole
  • Respondent completion rates lower for longer surveys
  • Random respondents may reply if your survey appears on Web page.
  • When desired target population consists mainly of Internet users.
  • Business-to-business research
  • Employee Attitude surveys

Click on the following links for more SuperSurvey articles comparing: Phone Surveys vs. Web Surveys or Mail Surveys vs. Web Surveys.