Surveys: Online vs Paper

We often get asked the question – which is more effective, online or paper surveys? In the current eco-friendly climate, you might immediately jump to the assumption that online surveys are a more efficient, cost-effective way to collect data. However, if your target demographic is not receptive to online questionnaires what are your options?

The increasing popularity of offering online vs paper surveys to customers is fairly obvious. Whereas in the past paper surveys were common, the expanding growth of digital communication channels has led to the increase in the use of the online version. The results from McKinsey’s global survey on digitization shows that a large portion of future company growth will be driven by digital efforts. We have listed some of the main reasons that people are choosing to use online surveys for their research.

Online surveys vs paper surveys
Online surveys vs paper surveys

Advantages of online surveys

In addition to reducing the amount of paper used, digital data collection does seem to be the preferred method for reasons that include:

  • Security – With GDPR just around the corner, it is essential that all organisations take reasonable steps to secure data. Using online surveys, you can control access to data by password and username protection. Read our blog on 8 ways SmartSurvey can help you be GDPR compliant.
  • Speed – Mailing a survey to a respondent and waiting for it to be sent back takes time! Online surveys are immediately accessible and can be generated in various ways, including email, social media, or by embedding them on websites. Now, with the advent of sending surveys via SMS messaging, you can reach your target audience whilst they are on the move.
  • Cost – With digital data collection there is no paper, postage, printing, data input, or telephone interview costs. It is possible to create free online surveys and if you need more advanced features you can upgrade to a paid plan.
  • Ease of use – The goal of eliminating all types of data entry is key to many organisations. By collecting data via online surveys, you not only cut down on costs of hiring someone to do it, you also eliminate the possibility of human error.
  • Anonymity – Sometimes it is essential to protect peoples’ right to privacy in order to gather honest feedback. If you make survey responses anonymous, it could encourage more people to take part, particularly if they are discouraged by the idea of providing personal details. This is a useful feature if a survey deals with sensitive information.
  • Design – You can customise the look of your online surveys very easily, adding drop down boxes, slider scales, and the ability to attach images, documents, or multimedia files. You can customise everything from the logo, fonts, colours, and background images. Secure domain branding helps build trust with respondents and should in turn increase response rates.
  • Analysis – You will be able to view real-time results and perform in-depth analysis on the data you collect by creating custom reports and manage who you want to share the results with.
  • Offline mode – If you are conducting research where there is no internet connection, you can gather data in offline mode. For example, patients in hospital waiting rooms can enter their information on iPads, saving nurses a lot of time inputting that data after the consultation.  Additionally, respondents in remote rural areas, with no access to the internet, can be surveyed and the results downloaded when internet connectivity is resumed. SmartSurvey recently partnered with Ulster Wildlife on an important research project to protect red squirrels, giving them the opportunity to collect data in remote areas!
surveys offline mode
Offline mode

The collection of data via online surveys and forms is a much smoother, efficient, cost-effective procedure. But let’s not completely discount paper surveys, they do have a place in the research environment and here we highlight a few important reasons.

Advantages of paper surveys

  • Readability – If your target demographic is visually impaired in any way and aren’t able to view text on a monitor, then this may be a strong and viable reason for using paper surveys.
  • Usability – A paper survey has, and always will have, a place in survey research, as a hard copy has the advantage of serving as a document if that is what is needed.
  • Use of purpose – No matter how many benefits you can list for online surveys, there is no point in using them if they are not reaching your target audience. At the end of the day, there are still some non-tech savvy people that would prefer you to send them paper surveys.

It is true that paper surveys have their strengths, but they do contribute to the increase in paper consumption, which is not looked upon favourably by environmentally friendly organisations worldwide.

It looks pretty cut and dried that, for the time being anyway, online surveys lead the way and are an invaluable tool to gather the insight needed to make important decisions.  As technology progresses, it’s easy to envision that sometime in the future robots or artificial intelligence will be providing us with the research we need to make successful decisions – watch this space!

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