Questionnaire vs. Interview

Questionnaires and Interviews both imply asking questions to the respondents who are supposed to answer them precisely. However, there is a big difference between the two. Questionnaires restrict the response of the respondents with closed-ended questions whereas interviews invite the opinions of the respondents with open-ended questions.

Yet both of them are resources of data collection. During the research, once the research problem is traced out and the research design is laid out, the task of data collection begins. Data is collected by primary resources like observation, survey, questionnaire, interview, etc and by secondary resources where the information is retrieved from some book, journal or newspaper.

We can email or mail the questionnaires to the respondents and get them answered at a distance since they are a set of questions on a piece of paper. However, for an interview physical presence is needed since it is one to one interaction. Here the respondents are asked questions directly. Nevertheless, remote interviews may also be taken on the telephone or online.

Although questionnaires and interviews are sources of primary data collection there is a lot of difference between the two. The questions in an interview can have a change in the order and arrangement of the questions whereas in a questionnaire the questions are in a fixed order and have a more rigid nature.

Furthermore, the information achieved in a questionnaire is factual whereas in an interview it is more analytical than factual. Hence interviews and questionnaires are different in many ways.

Comparison Chart

Basis Questionnaire Interview
Form Written Oral
Meaning  It is a form comprising of written multiple-choice questions to be filled by the participants. It is a formal session of a set of questions that are to be answered by the participants.
Nature of Questions Objective and close-ended Subjective and open-ended
Information Factual Analytical
Order of questions Cannot be changed since it is in printed format Can be switched depending on the need
Communication One to many One to one
Non-respondents High Low
Identity of respondent Disclosed Revealed
Coverage High Low

What is a Questionnaire?

A questionnaire is a tool used for research, which comprises a list of questions, with a set of multiple choice answers. These questions can either be on a printed piece of paper or provided on software where the correct option is to be selected. Generally, questionnaires are delivered to the persons concerned either by post or e-mail, requesting them to answer the questions and return it. The informants are expected to read and understand the questions and reply from the options of answers given for each question.

The questionnaire translates the required information into a series of questions, from which the respondents are to answer the one which they find more appropriate. A questionnaire is supposed to have relevant questions so that the respondents find it useful and engaging.

There are many advantages of piloting a questionnaire:

  1. It is a cheap method of data collection.
  2. It invites answers from a large sample of different backgrounds.
  3. It gives time to respondents to think before they answer.
  4. People living at a distance can also be invited to participate in the questionnaire.

Thus it is a feasible way of getting a response from a large group of people in a relatively short time.


What is an Interview?

In an interview, the data is directly collected by asking questions one to one. It is an in-depth conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee. The purpose is to extract opinions and gather information. The interaction is formal and the questions asked have been piloted beforehand. The session takes place orally and the responses are written down or mostly recorded and then transcribed.

This is considered to be an accurate method of data collection because the interviewer probes well into the question and extracts precise information through face-to-face interaction. There are fewer chances of misinterpretation of the data since the confusions can be clarified instantly by asking questions further on.

Interviews may be classified into two kinds:

Personal Interview: This is the most common mode of the interview where the physical presence of the interviewee is compulsory at the venue of the interview.

Telephonic Interview: In this kind of interview the physical presence of a person is not necessary and the interview is managed online by fruitful conversation and a question-answer session.



Key Differences between Questionnaire and Interview

The differences between a questionnaire and an interview can be drawn precisely on the following points:

  1. A document comprising of a series of written or printed multiple-choice questions, to be marked by the recipients, is called a questionnaire. Whereas a formal conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee respondent where the two of them participate in a question-answer session is called an interview.
  2. The method of collecting data in a questionnaire involves mailing the questionnaire to the respondents in a written format. On the contrary, the interview method is one wherein the interviewer communicates to the respondent verbally face to face or online.
  3. The questionnaire is chiefly objective in nature whereas an interview is subjective
  4. An interview has open-ended questions on which the interviewer can prompt whereas the questions of a questionnaire is close-ended that invites a specific response.
  5. The order of questions in an interview can be altered according to the response of the interviewee whereas the questionnaire remains unaltered in all ways.
  6. The data collected through an interview is more expensive than that of a questionnaire since it generally involves a recorder and other technical gadgets.
  7. With the questionnaire, the respondents have plenty of time to think before they mark the final answers however the interviewee has to give abrupt answers and has lesser time to think before responding.
  8. Yet it is up to the person who fills the questionnaire to fully respond to it or give a partial response. The researcher has no control over the number of answers gathered. Whereas the interviewer manages to get a response to all of its questions by the continuous stimulus.


Both questionnaires and interviews are primary sources of data collection methods. Each has its pros and cons and hence depending on the need of the research project they should be selected carefully. An interview has higher investment and seems a more accurate source of data collection whereas; a questionnaire invites a larger sample of people who may be distant and have a different background. Thus a questionnaire is far cheaper and requires less investment of time. Hence considering the research needs each method should be selected carefully.


Wikipedia: Questionnaire
Wikipedia: Interview

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