A survey is a standardized list of questions that may be administered formally or informally by mail, telephone, Internet, or in person to collect specific information from multiple individuals.


The application of a survey or use of survey techniques in a resource management area may target a specific type of information that a manager may need to know when making program and policy decisions. It also can be a general way to get a better understanding of a community's attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs.

For example, some managers want to understand the distribution of use in an area in order to make decisions regarding resource management. A survey can be used in gathering the data needed to justify and explain resource decisions.

Another survey may want to find out how the public perceives the institutions that govern resource use. The information obtained from this type of survey can assist in the overall strategic goals and direction of an organization.


  • Can reach moderate to large populations

  • Useful for collecting representative data

  • Has widespread credibility

  • Makes it possible to derive accurate generalizations about large populations from small samples, if administered properly


  • Moderately time-consuming

  • Expensive

  • Impersonal

  • Response rates can be low due to technique and population

  • Does not always capture all elements

Expertise Needed

Technical assistance from a skilled survey designer is essential and will improve the usefulness of the responses. More informal surveys may not require the highest level of expertise; however, some skill is needed to enter and analyze data.

An expert should also be consulted to help determine the most appropriate survey type and sample methods based on the goals and resources available.

Related Partners

NOAA is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. It plays several distinct roles within the Department of Commerce.

Resources: Books and Publications

  • Rea, L. M. and R. A. Parker. 1997. Designing and Conducting Survey Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Resources: Websites

  • Survey Research
    A discussion of types of surveys, methodology, and key terms related to survey research from Colorado State University. An in-depth bibliography is also included.

  • Brochures about Survey Research
    A series of brochures developed by The American Statistical Association for the general public designed to promote a better understanding of what is involved in conducting surveys.