Survey researchers design surveys and analyze data. Surveys are used to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions in order to understand people’s opinions, preferences, beliefs, or desires.

Duties

Survey researchers typically do the following:

  • Conduct background research on survey topics
  • Plan and design surveys, and determine appropriate survey methods
  • Test surveys to make sure that people will understand the questions being asked
  • Coordinate the work of survey interviewers and data collectors
  • Account for and solve problems caused by nonresponse or other sampling issues
  • Analyze data, using statistical software and techniques
  • Summarize survey data, using tables, graphs, and fact sheets
  • Evaluate surveys, the methods underlying them, and their performance to improve future surveys

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys for different research purposes. Surveys for scientific research cover various topics, including government, health, social sciences, and education. For example, a survey researcher may try to capture information about the prevalence of drug use or disease.

Some survey researchers design public opinion surveys, which are intended to gather information about the attitudes and opinions of society or of a certain group. Surveys can cover a wide variety of topics, including politics, culture, the economy, or health.

Other survey researchers design marketing surveys which examine products or services that consumers want, need, or prefer. Researchers who collect and analyze market research data are known as market research analysts.

Survey researchers may conduct surveys in many different formats, such as interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups (in-person, small group sessions led by a facilitator). They use different methods to collect data, including the Internet, mail, and telephone and in-person interviews.

Some researchers use surveys to solicit the opinions of an entire population. The decennial census is an example of such a survey. Others use surveys to target a smaller group, such as a specific demographic group, residents of a particular state, or members of a political party.

Researchers survey a sample of the population and use statistics to make sure that the sample accurately represents the target population group. Researchers use a variety of statistical techniques and analytical software to plan surveys, adjust for errors in the data, and analyze the results.

Survey researchers sometimes supervise interviewers who collect survey data through in-person interviews or by telephone.

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Work Environment

Survey researchers held about 12,600 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of survey researchers were as follows:

Other professional, scientific, and technical services 47%
Scientific research and development services 18
Educational services; state, local, and private 11
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations                             7
Self-employed workers 2

Survey researchers work in research firms, polling organizations, nonprofits, and corporations.

Survey researchers who conduct interviews have frequent contact with the public. Some may work outside the office, traveling to meet with clients or conducting in-person interviews and focus group sessions. When designing surveys and analyzing data, they usually work alone in an office setting, although some work on teams with other researchers.

Education and Training

Many research positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D., although a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some entry-level positions.

Education

Many research positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D. Survey researchers can have a master’s degree in a variety of fields, including marketing or survey research, statistics, and the social sciences. A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for some entry-level positions.

To prepare to enter this occupation, students should take courses in research methods, survey methodology, computer science, mathematics, and statistics. Many also may benefit from taking business courses, such as marketing and consumer behavior, and social science courses, such as psychology, sociology, and economics.

Other Experience

Prospective survey researchers can gain experience through internships or fellowships. Many businesses, research and polling firms, and marketing companies offer internships for college students or recent graduates who want to work in market and survey research. These opportunities, which provide valuable experience, can be very helpful toward getting a job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although survey researchers are not required by law to be licensed or certified, certification can show a level of professional competence.

The Insights Association offers the Professional Researcher Certification for survey researchers. To qualify, candidates must have at least 3 years of experience working in opinion and marketing research, pass an exam, and be a member of a professional organization. Researchers must complete continuing education courses and apply for renewal every 2 years to maintain their certification.

Personality and Interests

Survey researchers typically have an interest in the Thinking, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a survey researcher, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Survey researchers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Survey researchers must be able to apply statistical techniques to large amounts of data and interpret the analysis correctly. They also should be proficient in statistical software to analyze data.

Communication skills. Survey researchers need strong communication skills when conducting surveys and interpreting and presenting results to clients.

Critical-thinking skills. Survey researchers must design or choose a survey and survey method that best captures the information needed. They must also be able to look at the data and analyses and understand what can be learned from the survey.

Detail oriented. Survey researchers must pay attention to details as they work because survey results depend on collecting, analyzing, and reporting the data accurately. 

Problem-solving skills. Survey researchers need problem-solving skills when identifying survey design issues, adjusting data, and interpreting survey results.

Pay

The median annual wage for survey researchers was $59,170 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $108,860.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for survey researchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $71,620
Educational services; state, local, and private 61,760
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations                          57,740
Other professional, scientific, and technical services 56,120
Job Outlook

Employment of survey researchers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. 

Organizations in all industries rely on data and information acquired through research, and survey researchers play an important role in the research process. Governments, the media, nonprofits, and other organizations will continue to use public opinion research to learn about citizens’ thoughts and perspectives. They use this information to understand groups of people; measure a program’s effectiveness; or gauge support for people, policies, and actions. For example, public opinion research may help governments make decisions on transit systems, social programs, and numerous other issues.

Survey researchers are also expected to be needed to design surveys for businesses. In an increasingly competitive economy, firms will continue to use market and consumer research surveys to help make business decisions, improve their products or services, and compete in the market. Many of these researcher jobs will be in consulting firms.

Research is an evolving field. Companies regularly adopt new research methods and new data sources that are expected to increase productivity. For example, data mining—finding trends in large sets of existing data—and collecting information from social media sites are expected to reduce the need for some traditional survey methods, such as telephone and in-person interviews. These changing research methods are expected to temper employment growth of survey researchers.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be best for those with an advanced degree in market or survey research, statistics, or the social sciences. Because of the relatively small number of survey researcher positions, bachelor’s degree holders will likely face strong competition from more qualified candidates.

For More Information

For more information about careers in survey research, visit

American Association for Public Opinion Research

Insights Association

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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