Commissioning surveys FAQs

Posted on: 2012-05-14 in How To   |   Tagged: b2b pr commission survey omnibus reseach

Answers to your questions about commissioning research. 

What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?


Quantitative research uses numerical data to describe or explain variables and to examine the relationship between variables. Data are gathered using a range of methods (such as questionnaires or interviews) and then analysed statistically. Quantitative researchers attempt to gather the same set of data from each participant, so that, upon analysis, this information can be easily added / compared to identify trends.

Qualitative research is more in-depth. Rather than attempting to collect the same information off every respondent, qualitative researchers ask more in-depth questions, in an attempt to gather more detailed information (often by asking ‘why’) that can then be interpreted. Sample sizes are smaller, and results are more subjective (in my opinion at least! There’s huge ongoing debate on the subject, but I simply don’t care about it enough to get involved).


How do I commission research?


Unless your company can do it properly in house, you usually have to find someone or some organisation with the facilities to conduct research on your behalf. There are loads of research houses out there, and we’ve reviewed some of the major ones on the blog. Many will give you options, such as:

  • Participating in an omnibus – a survey that goes out regularly (e.g. daily or weekly) with lots of questions about a range of subjects. You can then add your questions onto the survey and the analysed results are returned to you. This is a commoditised product and is therefore attractive in terms of cost and timescales.
  • Bespoke research – the research house creates a sample specifically for you, and then puts your questions to this sample. This tends to require a lot of effort, so takes longer and costs more.

Once you’ve chosen your approach, you will need to draft your questions, submit them, and wait for your results.


What’s the difference between a sample and a population?


The population is the entire group of people you are trying to get information about. The sample is the sub-section of the population that you are going to survey.

For example, if you wanted to research doctors’ views on a new piece of legislation being proposed by government, then ‘qualified doctors’ would be your population. However, according to the General Medical Council, there are over 215,000 registered doctors in the UK. To survey every single one of them would be time consuming and expensive. Luckily, statistical tools enable us to survey a smaller group of, say, 200 doctors (the sample), and make reasonably reliable inferences about the whole population.


What are demographics?


If you’re commissioning research, someone smart is going to use the word ‘demographics’ at some point, so you should probably know what it means. Demographics simply refers to information about the population that has been sampled, and usually include things like age, gender, social grade (see below) and location.


What does social grade mean?


When your research house returns your results, you might find they have been broken down by social grade, followed by a bunch of letters. This is one of the demographic (see above) classifications, used to group people according to their social status or class. I’ve nicked this little table from Wikipedia to help you understand the letters.


Social Class

Chief income earner's occupation


Upper middle class

Higher managerial, administrative or professional


Middle class

Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional


Lower middle class

Supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional


Skilled working class

Skilled manual workers


Working class

Semi and unskilled manual workers


Those at the lowest levels of subsistence

Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners and others who depend on the welfare state for their income


While this information might be useful for your organisation, it generally doesn’t make great news headlines, so it is often irrelevant in research commissioned for comms purposes.


How big does my sample need to be?


If you want your results to be valid, you should be gathering data from an appropriate sample, but there are no hard and fast rules as to how big this sample should be. If your population is quite homogeneous (meaning, has similar characteristics, such as ‘doctors’) then you should be able to make robust inferences from a relatively small sample (say 50-200). However, if you are researching a much more varied population (such as the general public), then your sample will need to be bigger (500 – 2000) to compensate for the differences.

However, despite what I might have led you to believe, I am no expert. Statistical tools enable us to extrapolate from relatively small samples to much larger populations and your research provider should be able to advise on the sample size you need.


Do I say ‘data are’ or ‘data is’?


The word ‘data’ is plural (singular is datum), so you should be saying ‘data are collected’ rather than ‘data is collected’. Think of it like ‘people’ – you say ‘people are interesting’ not ‘people is interesting’. I know it seems pedantic and I have been accused of grammar Nazism in the past, but if you’re pitching your research ideas to a CEO or MD, assume they are grammaristas as well, and try to get yours right! That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if data became the official singular within a few years (you read it here first).


What is CAPI and CATI?


Refers to ‘computer assisted personal interviewing’ and ‘computer assisted telephone interviewing’. An interviewer asks the questions in person / over the telephone, and enters the results into the computer, which then redirects to the next question, based on answers to the previous question.


See all our posts on commissioning research...

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The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, founder of TopLine Comms, and inbound marketingB2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say.  Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact the B2B PR Blog editorial team via email on [email protected].


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