Survey Researchers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Survey Researchers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Survey Researchers

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 nonrespondents or other sampling issues
  • Analyze data using statistical software and techniques
  • Summarize survey data using tables, graphs, and fact sheets
  • Evaluate surveys, methods, and performance to improve future surveys

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys for different research purposes. Surveys for scientific research cover various fields, 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 with 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, such as the decennial census, and others use them 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 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 the survey data through in-person interviews or by telephone.

Work Environment for Survey Researchers[About this section] [To Top]

Survey researchers held about 16,700 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most survey researchers were as follows:

Other professional, scientific, and technical services 49%
Scientific research and development services 15
Educational services; state, local, and private 9
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 7
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 6

They work in research firms, polling organizations, nonprofits, corporations, colleges and universities, and government agencies.

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, though some work on teams with other researchers.

Survey Researcher Work Schedules

Most survey researchers work full time during regular business hours. They may sometimes work for extended periods to meet project deadlines.

How to Become a Survey Researcher[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Survey Researchers near you!

Many research positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D., though a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some entry-level positions. In addition, employers generally prefer candidates who have previous experience performing research, using statistics, and analyzing data.

Survey Researcher 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, 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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

The Marketing Research 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.

Important Qualities for Survey Researchers

Analytical skills. Survey researchers must be able to apply statistical techniques to large amounts of data and interpret the results correctly. They also should be proficient in the statistical software used 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 draw reasonable conclusions from the results of the survey.

Detail oriented. Survey researchers must pay attention to details, 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 survey questions, and interpreting survey results.

Survey Researcher Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for survey researchers was $53,920 in May 2015. 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 $22,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,500.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for survey researchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $69,370
Educational services; state, local, and private 54,130
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 53,710
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 52,550
Other professional, scientific, and technical services 48,140

Most survey researchers work full time during regular business hours. They may sometimes work for extended periods to meet project deadlines.

Job Outlook for Survey Researchers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of survey researchers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

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 which may increase productivity. For example, collecting information from social media sites and data mining—finding trends in large sets of existing data—are expected to reduce the need for some traditional survey methods, such as telephone and in-person interviews. Employment growth may be tempered by these changing research methods.

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. Jobseekers with strong statistical and analytical skills and research experience should have good job prospects. Because of the relatively small number of survey researcher positions, bachelor’s degree holders will likely face strong competition from more qualified candidates.

Employment projections data for Survey Researchers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Survey researchers 16,700 18,700 12 1,900


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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