Types of Surveying and International Comparisons


Cross-national surveys refer to studies in which different countries are compared and therefore require the design, implementation, and organization of the study to be comparable. It is important that researchers make additional considerations when conducting cross-national surveys so as to account for the social and cultural settings of different participant groups. By doing so, the internal validity of the study increases and any differences in cross-cultural comparisons that are found can be attributed to actual differences rather than methodological flaws.

Within this article, we will explore the ways in which researchers accommodate certain social and cultural settings when they design sampling schemes, construct surveys using survey software, and select modes of data collection. 


When sampling in cross-national studies, it is important that researchers carefully select the data their sampling design will be based on. The following are three reliable sources of data that can be used:

Census Data

Census data is useful to use when the countries being compared in the study have census data that is reliable and easily available. Census data not only helps generate macro-level demographic statistics but also makes it possible to create a list of individuals within the population.

Resident Registers

This data source is a good option for countries where resident registration is compulsory. Resident registers will generally provide data that is more current and up-to-date when compared with census data that may become obsolete more quickly.

Voter Registers

In some countries, the percentage of registered voters within the voting age population is high enough to provide comprehensive population data for sampling. In such countries, voter registers can be used as a source to base the sampling design. It is crucial to note that in highly mobile societies, voter registers can become obsolete quickly, and for such societies, resident registers may be more suited.

Questionnaire Design

Designing a questionnaire for cross-national surveys is generally a tedious process as these designs must be modified to take into consideration the different circumstances in countries that differ in their political, economic, cultural, and social settings. This is especially crucial when conducting market research studies using market research software.

Terms and Concepts

One of the most complex problems to solve in order to achieve comparability across cross-national fieldwork are linguistic idiosyncrasies. Literal translations of questionnaires are likely to be counterproductive when trying to achieve equivalence within a survey. If the language employed cannot achieve equivalence, it will threaten the validity of the research.

Skilled researchers appoint both qualitative and quantitative methods to achieve equivalence of meaning and measurement in different languages. The systematic method of translation has two minimum requirements:

  • Detailed annotation of the source of the questionnaire
  • Iterative back-translation

Measurement and Response Categories

Beyond concepts and terms, other aspects of questionnaire design also require careful planning in international surveys. Measurements and response categories must be carefully decided after the pretesting of different numerical scales across different countries. Certain scales may seem unfamiliar or confusing to the people of one country while being completely familiar to those in another country.

Another issue associated with the point scaling system has to do with the cultural values and social norms that differ between societies. Cross-national variations can cause varying response patterns among countries, reinforcing the importance of thoughtful design, practice, and interpretation of cross-national surveys.

Modes of Data Collection using Surveys

There are many different modes of data collection that researchers can use including mail surveys, CATI surveys, internet surveys, and face-to-face surveys; each having its own strengths and limitations. the different factors researchers must consider while choosing a mode of data collection are as follows

● Questionnaire Length and Content

Internet surveys are generally effective for short and basic surveys. However, if the survey is too long or complex, respondents may choose to drop out. Therefore, in more long and complex surveys, other modes that have a moderator or interviewer present, such as telephone surveys or face-to-face interviews, are more appropriate.

● Country

 Certain modes work better in certain countries, For instance, in countries with large populations of illiterate residents, where telecommunications is tedious, face-to-face interviews are most appropriate.

● Costs

With technological advancements, the use of face-to-face surveys continues to decrease as other modes of surveying become easier to use and more affordable. Cost is usually a major factor that is considered when making a decision about which survey mode to employ.

Types of Surveying and International Comparisons was last updated October 31st, 2021 by Pranav Buchake