Survey Methodology/Survey Research

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Survey Methodology studies sources of error in surveys—the bias and variability that affect the quality of survey data. As a field of knowledge, a profession, and a science, survey methodology seeks to link the principles of survey design, collection, processing, and analysis to an understanding of error.

Survey Methodology is an inherently multidisciplinary field. Achieving high quality survey results requires applying principles from traditional academic disciplines such as statistics and the social sciences. Statistics provides a quantitative foundation while social and cognitive psychology supplies the framework for understanding how human behavior affects accuracy in survey responses. Sociology and anthropology offer theories of social stratification and cultural diversity. Finally, computer science provides principles of database design and human-computer interaction.

Related fields include Statistics, Informatics, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, and Mathematics.


Every survey involves a number of decisions about design and implementation, and each decision can potentially affect the quality and validity of the results. How will the sample be chosen? What mode will be used to pose questions and collect answers? All surveys involve compromises, and the challenge for the researcher is to determine how best to use the available resources to produce, on balance, the best results.

As a student of survey methodology, you will be developing the following skills and abilities:

Analytical Skills

Applying methods to problems
Projecting from data
Reasoning critically
Categorizing data
Developing theories
Designing systems for processing data

Quantitative Skills

Computer programming
Mathematical modeling
Designing questionnaires
Developing sample forms
Mathematical analysis
Applying statistical packages
Interpreting data from tables / charts

Problem-Solving Skills

Formulating problems
Applying logic to problems
Assessing needs
Distinguishing relevant / extraneous information
Interpreting data
Understanding components of complex problems

Research and Communication Skills

Writing reports / publications
Evaluating collected data
Identifying areas for research
Gathering data / processing
Presenting alternative explanations
Planning / designing project
Translating theory into research plans


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Graduates at the Masters and PhD levels in Survey Methodology are in high demand in government, academic, and private industry jobs. Government agencies, such as those in the U. S. federal statistical system (e.g., Bureau of the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics) spend approximately $4 billion annually on economic and social information collection and dissemination and employ 12,000 staff. The commercial sector presents job opportunities in survey research firms and market research, with annual gross revenues of $10-15 billion and more than 45,000 technical staff. Academic survey centers and, recently, survey methodology education programs, seek staff and faculty with specialization in survey methodology.

The following is a selected list of occupations compiled from information about Michigan graduates and from national data.

Analytical Skills

Policy analyst
Census Bureau analyst
Sales forecaster
Operations research analyst
Health policy analyst
Risk management analyst

Quantitative Techniques

Survey statistician
Program statistician
Survey manager
Research administrator

Problem-Solving Skills

Employment specialist
Opinion pollster
Organizational consultant
Hospital Risk Management

Research and Communication Skills

Research Assistant / Associate
Research Scientist
Legislative Researcher
Marketing research
Media (TV, Radio, Newspaper, Internet)

For more career information, see O*NET at


Several programs are housed within the Institute for Social Research which train and educate students and professionals in methodology and skills of social science research. Together, these programs offer courses covering most aspects of survey research with a wide variety of methodological and substantive topics.

The SRC Summer Internship Program offers a paid summer internship for undergraduates who have completed sophomore year (or higher) and graduate students with an interest in social science research.

Program in Survey Methodology offers programs of study at the doctoral, master’s and certificate levels., 734-764-0038

Survey Research Center (SRC) Summer Institute in Survey Research Techniques provides rigorous and high quality graduate training in all phases of survey research. It is also open to advanced undergraduates., 734-764-6585

Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer Program in Quantitative Methods is recognized throughout the world as the preeminent forum for basic and advanced training in the methodologies and technologies of social science research., 734-763-7400

For more information, contact:

Institute for Social Research
426 Thompson Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248

The Career Center
3200 Student Activities Building

The Career Guide series was developed by the University of Michigan Career Center, Division of Student Affairs, in cooperation with the Institute for Social Research. ©2013 Regents of the University of Michigan