In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Survey Methods

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Major Collections
  • Journals
  • History of Survey Research
  • Interviews
  • Survey Analysis
  • Critics

Sociology Survey Methods
David de Vaus
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0106


Survey methods are some of the core methods for collecting and analyzing data in sociology. While survey methods have been used since the early days of sociology, they became a core method after World War II: they have increasingly found use in a wide range of other disciplines and have become a key tool in business, government, marketing, and many other applied areas. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, survey research has become progressively more sophisticated and has benefited from developments in a wide range of disciplines including statistics, cognitive psychology, computer programming, and technological advances such as telephones and the Internet. Although Britain was the home of the earlier surveys, the United States fostered the explosion of survey research after World War II. Survey research has been used throughout the world and has become an important basis for comparative social analysis. While the fundamentals of survey research are well established—collections of structured data usually with a structured questionnaire and the statistical analysis of the interrelationships of variables—the practice of survey research is constantly changing. Our knowledge of how to ask good questions continues to develop, the means by which questionnaires are administered are being transformed as technology changes, and the challenges of obtaining good information increase as response rates decline. Our ability to analyze data continues to evolve as computer software enables survey researchers to develop complex survey designs and interrogate the data in ever more sophisticated ways.

General Overviews

Marsh 1982 provides an unusual overview of the survey method that focuses on its epistemological foundations. More typical overviews are texts aimed at different audiences. Moser and Kalton 1985 has stood the test of time since being first published in 1958. Babbie 2012 and Fowler 2009 have been widely used among undergraduates, while de Vaus 2002 and Fink 2003 are aimed more at postgraduate students. Groves, et al. 2011 is a more advanced treatment of the areas dealt with by these texts.

  • Babbie, E. R. 2012. The practice of social research. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

    Widely used and highly accessible introduction to various social research methods including survey research. It provides a good context within which to understand surveys.

  • de Vaus, D. A. 2002. Surveys in social research. 5th ed. London: Routledge.

    Widely used text among postgraduate students. Provides an easy to understand and practical guide to conducting, analyzing, and critically evaluating surveys. A sixth edition is due in 2013.

  • Fink, A. 2003. The survey kit: How to design survey studies. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A set of ten volumes with each volume dedicated to topics that are typically a chapter in introductory texts. Volumes include question design, different methods of administering questionnaires, and sampling. Two volumes provide elementary introductions to survey analysis.

  • Fowler, F. J. 2009. Survey research methods. 4th ed. New York: SAGE.

    A well-tested and relatively brief introduction for undergraduates that provides chapter-length treatment on core topics of survey research, including one chapter on survey analysis.

  • Groves, Robert M., Floyd J. Fowler, Mick P. Couper, James M. Lepkowski, Eleanor Singer, and Roger Tourangeau. 2011. Survey methodology. 2d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Provides an up-to-date revision of the popular first edition. This is an intermediate level overview of the main topic areas in conducting and evaluating survey data, but it does not venture into survey analysis. It is appropriate for postgraduate-level courses.

  • Marsh, Catherine. 1982. The survey method: The contribution of surveys to sociological explanation. London: Allen and Unwin.

    Marsh provides a strongly argued case for the contribution of survey-based explanations. She responds to the anti-survey perspective found in parts of sociology and argues that these critiques are ill conceived and misunderstand what survey research can accomplish in achieving sociological understanding.

  • Moser, C. A., and G. Kalton. 1985. Survey methods in social investigation. Aldershot, UK: Gower.

    This classic book first appeared in 1958 authored by Moser but subsequently co-authored by Kalton. It remains useful, although it is not as up to date regarding more recent survey method developments.

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