A guide to getting demographic information from surveys

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Demographic studies are a quick way for researchers to gather information about the human population. They can use the data collected to design a more effective marketing strategy. For some professions, like marketing and project management, this kind of information is invaluable. In this article, we discuss what demographic information from surveys is, how researchers collect it and how they design demographic surveys, plus some tips on how to do so.

What is demographic information from surveys?

Demographic information is the term given to a study that concerns the human population. It focuses on societal groups and how factors such as religion, ethnicity, employment, marriage and location indicate unique things about us. One example of demographic information that you may collect is how many men in a certain neighbourhood have filed for divorce. This data then becomes a percentage for comparison against other neighbourhoods.

How is demographic information collected?

Researchers collect demographic information directly from the human population, so surveys are the most common method of collection. This is because they're easy to distribute, easy to fill out and easy for the researcher to lift data from. Surveys can also limit the variety of answers because of their multiple choice nature. Questions on a survey can be more concrete, meaning that there is no room for ‘maybe' answers, only definitive ones. This allows researchers to segment this data into clear subgroups for subsequent analysis based on the answers given.

Other methods of demographic information collection include devising a questionnaire or carrying out a census. A questionnaire isn't as effective, despite it being easy to distribute, as there's usually space for a written answer. This is a type of qualitative analysis instead of quantitative analysis, making for increased difficulty for the researcher to segment different groups based on their answers, as there are many more, often unique, answer types. Censuses aren't a popular method either as it can take a while for a researcher to get the results back, as they're often sent out to homes via the postal service.

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How are demographic surveys designed?

Researchers design demographic surveys in a particular, pre-designed format. This is usually around a hypothesis or a specific product. There are pieces of software that can help create a series of effective questions, but more often than not, the researchers construct the questions themselves. Crucial to this is ensuring that the questions don't leave any room for interpretation. This is because it leads to blurred lines and varied answers that don't segment well, meaning that it's harder to translate into hard data.

An example of an effective question is something straightforward like ‘What is your gender?' You can follow this up with a series of multi-choice answers that include ‘Male', ‘Female' or ‘Other', so that the participant has to select one. Questions such as ‘What did you have for dinner?' are open-ended, meaning that there are a variety of answers like ‘pizza', ‘steak' or ‘curry' which can take researchers a much longer time to segment into data. Broader answer selections can lead to categorisation issues that inevitably prolong a study, which can be costly.

Tips for creating a demographic survey

Below are some tips for researchers to consider when designing their survey:

Keep the survey's purpose in mind

When designing a demographic survey, a researcher ensures they keep the purpose of that survey in mind at all times. They want to make sure that they're asking their participants a series of relevant questions. If the questions aren't relevant to the study, this can have a range of negative effects.

For example, unsuitable questions can waste a lot of hours and resources as other researchers have segmented pieces of data that turn out to be useless. This can make the researcher who decided on the questions look unprofessional and can delay the schedule. Having a research team proofread the survey may prevent these costly time losses.

Keep it brief

When creating a demographic survey, a researcher is depending on the participant to choose to fill it out. This means that they want to make sure that the survey isn't too long, as this can cause the participant to grow bored or annoyed with it and refuse to fill the rest out. It's a good idea to keep a demographic survey to around 10-20 questions long for this reason. As a result, it's important that each question asked has a specific purpose because the researcher wants to make sure that they collect sufficient amounts of data.

It's equally important that the researcher ask questions that don't overlap. This can lead to irritation for the participant if they answer several variations of the same questions repeatedly. That's why a researcher writes the same question in several ways before deciding which version to put on the survey. This ensures that the last question leads to an all-encompassing answer.

Ask appropriate questions

When a researcher is creating a demographic survey, they want to create a shortlist of succinct questions that don't impose on the participants' personal lives inappropriately. If participants feel like the survey is encroaching on their personal lives, they made decide not to fill it out, leaving the researcher with no data. Even if some participants still fill it out, the amount of data collected may not be enough. The goal is to make sure the participants are comfortable answering the questions honestly.

Keep answers anonymous

Regardless of the type of survey that a researcher is conducting, a researcher aims to keep answers anonymous. This is because by protecting a participant's identity, they might be more enthusiastic about filling out the survey. Increased participation can dramatically speed up a project, leaving more time for data segmentation. Some areas that can seem innocuous to some can be sensitive to others. Sensitive areas may include the gender, income, employment, race and ethnicity sections on a demographic survey. This can lead to hesitation from participants, which sometimes they release if they withhold their identity.

Explain your study

Participants are much more likely to get on board with a demographic study if they understand why it's taking place. By explaining the study and the research purposes, participants are likelier to feel involved in the project and so can be more useful. If they especially connect with the study, participants may even help researchers distribute the survey.

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How are demographic surveys distributed?

One reason why demographic surveys are so popular is that they're easy to distribute. With a few clicks, researchers can send hundreds of participants a link to their survey and they can send a completed version back in minutes. Researchers send surveys either through email (which can require more effort to gather these emails) or by posting information about the survey on social media. It may be advantageous to use social media more so because it gives researchers a wider demographic pool.

Researchers can also distribute their surveys by making use of third-party companies that specialise in data collection. They have a list of participants who are readily available to take part in a survey and can use a filter to send it to those who meet the researcher's criteria. This saves a lot of time and effort having to filter through and personally find a selection of participants who meet the target demographic. Yet this can take up some of a project's budget, so it's not ideal for those who are on a tight budget.

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Why is demographic information collected?

Several industries use demographic information, especially ones that focus on product development and marketing. Project managers and developers ensure their product lands with their intended audience and generates profit. Who the intended demographic is can dramatically change how they create and sell a product, as a different angle may be necessary. For example, there are different ways to sell a product to a teenage girl compared to a middle-aged woman.

Demographic information can tell a project manager which features lead to more products sold. For example, if a company was to design a sports car, you may market it toward drivers with a certain income. To researching this, you might send out a survey asking different groups of people whether they have a license. Then they would segment this data into age groups and see which age group the sports car was most popular with. This could be 40 to 50-year-old men. The project manager would know to target their marketing campaign towards that age and gender group.

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