How To Collect Personal Information with Surveys


How old are you? Are you married? What’s your household income? These are just demographic questionnaire examples. The point is that the security and privacy of personal data are significant issues, particularly in the current data-driven research environment. An important issue might be respondents’ unwillingness to answer the questions that ask for sensitive or personal information (PI). When your company seeks personal information, you must act carefully yet effectively.

In this article, we’ll discover how to design a survey and avoid some typical mistakes.

What Data to Collect?

Thousands of organizations constantly use survey data as it can strongly assist in certain business decisions. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for survey researchers to conduct as many surveys and collect as much data as they want. Not all respondents have time or desire to finish a survey, even if it is well-designed. 

However, to collect PI ethically and obtain usable data, it’s imperative to adhere to the best practices outlined in this article. You must follow the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and have explicit consent from survey respondents before collecting any personally identifiable information.

Types of Survey Data Methods

There are four main survey data collection methods — telephonic surveys, face-to-face surveys, online surveys, and paper surveys.

Paper Surveys 

Paper surveys are a different sort of survey that is often employed. They operate the traditional mode of data collection with pen and paper. That’s because people can use them in places where laptops, computers, and iPads are not available. This technique helps gather survey data for field research, increases the volume of replies gathered, and improves the reliability of the responses. 

Face-to-Face Surveys  

Face-to-face information collection from respondents is significantly more effective than other methods because respondents are more likely to trust the surveyors and give open and frank comments on the topic at issue. 

Telephone Surveys 

Telephone surveys can cost as much or a little more than survey types, depending on the necessary reach. The telephone is a less time- and labor-intensive method of contacting respondents than in-person interviews. 

Online Surveys 

Compared to other methods, online surveys are the most affordable and have the broadest audience. They are substantially better than the other data collection techniques regarding their reach. Certain researchers prefer doing online surveys over conventional face-to-face or telephone surveys when asking multiple questions is necessary. 

How Can You Collect PI with Surveys?

When you have to collect personal information on your respondents, consider the following:

  1. Introduce yourself first

At the start of your survey, write a well-written opening statement outlining the significance of respondents’ viewpoints, remarks, and general input. In this introduction, explain why you are collecting this information and what it will be used for in case you need to ask some personal questions. If you have an anonymous poll, emphasize anonymity. People’s willingness to provide you with the information you need will increase as they’ll trust you more.

  1. Express confidentiality

Explain the significance of maintaining responders’ information confidentiality and security and the measures your business takes to substantiate your claims. Explain to respondents in the survey’s opening paragraph that their answers will be treated with maximum confidentiality.

  1. Use pre-survey emails 

You can encourage your respondents to participate in your survey by sending them a pre-survey email. Explain the advantages of the research and let them know when and how they may anticipate getting the survey (online, mobile, paper, etc.).

  1. Non-personal questions should come first

By starting with a non-personal inquiry, you may establish trust with the responder.  As the respondent moves through the survey, you’ll begin to earn their trust by allowing them to learn more about the research and feel less pressured by personal questions. There is just no way that a responder will want to answer questions that request personal information if they do not believe the survey is from a reliable, trustworthy researcher.

  1. Make a survey anonymous

In many situations, you might need to gather personal information, but you are only sometimes required to collect details to identify a specific person. Survey participants often reply to questions more openly and honestly when their identities remain anonymous. The same explanation underlies people’s preference to comment anonymously on internet content.

  1. Limit your questions

Is the respondent’s age, race, marital status, etc. important for you to know? That knowledge is crucial for several research projects. Don’t ask for information if it is necessary to achieve your main objective. If it’s optional, refrain from asking intimate inquiries and gathering sensitive information. If the survey participant can continue without responding, they are more likely to do so since they won’t feel compelled to answer.

Useful Tips for Collecting PI with Surveys

  1. Consider if PI is essential to your research

There is no need to ask sensitive questions if the PI for whom you are requesting does not directly support and influence your final study aim and is not being utilized as qualifying criteria. This is an essential initial step in determining whether gathering PI is vital to a research project’s success. 

  1. Ask less sensitive questions before asking for PI

The best strategy to gain respondents’ trust is to start your poll with simple, unthreatening questions and non-PI facts. Respondents are more inclined to do so when asked PI-related questions later in the survey after having previously answered non-PI-related question sets. 

  1. Provide choices and answer options in your survey questions

You should ask your respondents with as much objectivity as you can. Avoid inquiries such as “Do you exercise regularly?” This question seems slightly judgemental and doesn’t clarify what “regularly” means.  

Instead, it would be preferable to ask a question like, “How often do you exercise?”  Then, you may offer a few response alternatives, such as “Once a week,” “Twice a week,” or “Never.” This makes the question less judgemental and enables respondents to answer more precisely.


Online surveys are a valuable tool for information collection for data science projects. You should pay close attention to each process step to ensure the survey produces relevant, reliable, and accurate results.

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