How to Conduct a Field Survey?


To conduct a field questionnaire survey, you will need to follow a logical structure and format in order to captivate the participants. Field surveys are usually carried outdoors to gain insight of the general population or a specific target group. Depending on your academic requirement, surveys are usually conducted in post-graduate studies and in the workforce.


For a questionnaire survey, there needs to be many open ended questions so that you can gain as many insights from the respondents as possible. With this type of  field survey there is a sense of freedom for the participants where they can express their thoughts and feelings without inhibitions on a particular subject matter. For instance, if the survey is about public spaces and what people want from their local parks, then asking them open-ended questions such as how often they visit the park and what facilities they seek, would be most appropriate in determining how people use parks in their cities.

This article will provide a few suggestions on how to structure a good questionnaire survey, particularly for students and practitioners in urban planning. 

1. Discuss the topic with your supervisor:

Whether you are working in a company or constructing a survey for your Master’s thesis, you need to have a thorough understanding of the topic for the survey. Gaining an understanding of the target group and who would be interested in the topic, is very important. You would need to look at research papers and books on how people have constructed questionnaire surveys to find out the most suitable type of survey for you.

It is likely that you would have to go out into the field to conduct your survey because urban planning is mostly about exploring the city from the outdoors. It is also valuable to first discuss the issue in detail with your supervisor or manager to understand the main objectives and purpose of the survey either for the company or for the university.

You need to make sure that the survey meets the requirements of the department in which you are located and is suitable for the topic of the survey. For instance, if you are in the transport department of a municipality, and want to find out the mode of transport used by local people in your city, you would need to devise a questionnaire survey that would benefit your local authority.

The goals of your organisation should be taken into consideration while conducting the survey, particularly when you are out in the field.

Related: Defining Aim, Objective, Scope for conducting study


2. Always take the consent of the participants before conducting the survey:

Most universities have an ethics policy before conducting field surveys. This is the same for questionnaire surveys. It is important that you have an ethics form that the participant can sign before undertaking the survey, so that if there is any conflict in the future, the issues could be resolved. The ethics form usually details the reasons for conducting the survey and why it is beneficial for the company or the university.

It is important that you take the signature of the departmental head of the university or the company manager before disclosing the ethics form to participants. It is risky to perform a survey in the outdoors without an ethics form, especially if you are representing an organisation. It is more likely that the participants will acknowledge and trust your work if they know that you respect their consent towards the survey participation.

It is also nice to politely ask the participants, with a sentence such as “would you be interested in participating in a survey?” before you start asking them questions. As we live in a busy world, many people will not have the time to participate in a survey, so it  would be best to find a time when people are taking coffee breaks or lunch breaks to conduct the surveys.

If your participant does not feel comfortable in answering any of the questions that you ask, you will need to respect their choice and not pursue this further. It is always a good idea to maintain professionalism while conducting the survey and not to take things personally if they don’t go as planned.

3. Prepare the questions carefully and predict how participants might answer:

While conducting a questionnaire survey, it is important to think about intelligent questions that people would be interested in answering. You need to remember not to ask personal questions other than a few questions at the beginning such as profession, email and gender, to break the ice.

Ask questions that the general population will understand without many professional or academic terms. For instance, if you are asking general people about their mode of transport, it is useful to ask open ended questions such as “what type of transport do you prefer to take?” or “how is your experience in the metro when you use it?” or “how can our transport be improved?” It is good to start your questions with terms such as “who” or “how” because they would lead to discussion type answers rather than short sentence answers. Some questions starting with “what” can be devised so that you can follow up with more detailed questions that will make the conversation between you and the participant more interesting.

If you pick a topic that most people are interested in, and one that is useful for your particular organisation, it would be more beneficial while conducting the questionnaire survey. It would also be helpful if you can introduce yourself and your organisation before conducting the survey to the participant.

However, you would need to mind your time as the general population would usually not have a lot of time to participate in questionnaire surveys. The ideal time would be around 15 to 30 minutes. It is your responsibility to make the survey short and easy to access so that more people would be interested in participating in the survey and you can get a wide range of data for your analysis.

Related: SWOT Analysis, tips for writing coursework

4. Decide the format of your questionnaire survey:

It is important to decide the format of your questionnaire survey before you enter the field. This would need to take place with your supervisor or your manager who would be best to advise you on the type of format that is used in the organisation. You can also gain access to templates that are normally used in the university or company.

Questionnaire surveys are usually cross-sectional in nature. Most questionnaire surveys include a range of open ended questions that you will need to write yourself or ask the respondents to spend some time writing their answers.  From personal experience, I find that asking the participants questions will enhance the personal interaction between you and the participant making the survey more interesting than just asking them to fill out the survey.

You could also introduce your survey briefly and provide them with a link to participate in your survey online. With the digital technology advancing, many organisations are using online survey tools to gain more insights into questionnaire surveys.

Depending on the type of method that is most suitable for you and your organisation, it would be best to devise a questionnaire that is both interesting and engaging for participants to be involved in. The type of method you use will drastically affect how the questionnaire survey is conducted. You can also read more online articles specifically on questionnaire surveys to determine which type of survey would best suit your needs.

Related: Characteristics of a Good Questionnaire

5. Make the data in your results or analysis accessible and easy to understand:

Many university studies are not accessible to the public which is a big drawback to the participants. It is important that your results and the data gathered from the questionnaire survey is accessible to the participants or at least emailed to the participants. Most participants who are interested would like to know the data gathered from the study, especially if it is a municipal study on issues such as transport or public parks.

Let your participants know that you will disclose your data at the end of the study and that they can access the results in a particular website.

Make your data interesting  by using graphs and digital images that are easy to understand. Many analysis are hard to understand by the general public, which should be avoided in the case of questionnaire surveys. Using excel or SPSS to generate graphs would be ideal so that anyone who is literate can understand the results your data has found. It is good to quantify the numbers of your survey so that there is a set data generated from the survey.

Again, the type of data generated from the survey, will result in the type of study you conduct and the type of organisation you work or study for.


All the five suggestions given above, are interconnected to each other and should be used judiciously based on the type of questionnaire survey suitable to your individual needs. This article is based on a word based questionnaire survey where participants are asked open ended questions to gain insights into the everyday urban planning issues that are faced by the general public. It is finally left to your discretion on how and why you conduct the survey and who it will benefit in the long run.

The above tips would be useful for urban planning students, academics and professionals who want to gain insights from local population on various urban planning issues. It is also worth noting that these tips reflect the author’s personal experience throughout her studies and employment in the urban planning field.