Survey research is common in both science and daily life. Almost everyone in today's society has been exposed to survey research in one form or another. Researchers ask questions about the political candidate one favors, the television programs one watches, the soft drink one prefers, whether there should be awaiting period prior to purchasing a handgun, and so on.

There are many ways to obtain data about the social world; among them are observation, field studies, and experimentation. Two key methods for obtaining data—questionnaires and interviews—are survey research methods. Most of the social research conducted or published involves these two data collection methods.

In general, when using survey methods, the researcher gets information directly from each person (or respondent) by using self-report measurement techniques to ask people about their current attitudes, behaviors, and demographics (statistical features of populations, such as age, income, race, and marital status), in addition to past experiences and future goals. In questionnaires, the questions are in written format, and the research subjects check boxes and type in (or write down) their answers. In interviews, there is one-to-one verbal communication, either face-to-face or by means of a telephone, between the interviewer and respondent. Both techniques are flexible and adaptable to the group of people being studied and the particular situation. Both can range from being highly structured to highly unstructured.

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