How to Write a Survey Paper

As a student, you will undoubtedly be involved in writing different academic papers, and at one point, you will need to know how to write a survey paper. Kindly note, that a survey paper differs from the online surveys or questionnaires shared to a selected group of people. While those are quite popular and are used to draw conclusions based on the opinions of the respondent, a survey paper is different. It is an essay that is common among students because it seeks to examine a subject broadly to gain more understanding of it. In this article, we will unveil how to write a survey paper, including the tips required to make your paper successful.

What is a survey paper?

A survey paper refers to an academic article that provides a comprehensive review of existing research and literature on a specific topic or field. The primary goal is to review the limits or gaps in knowledge of the topic or fields, then document the findings through the process of summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing the key findings, methodologies, and trends. The basis of the article is obtained from a wide range of sources, which include research articles, books, and other scholarly works. A survey paper is a valuable material for students, researchers, and professionals because it helps them gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic without going through the rigorous process of studying all the individual studies themselves.

Survey Paper Outline

All survey papers generally have the following sections:

  • Introduction: This section introduces the topic and its significance. It further states the purpose of the survey paper and provides an overview of the structure of the paper.
  • Background and Context: This section outlines a brief background of the topic and its historical development. Here you will define key terms and concepts relevant to the topic and state the aim or motivation for conducting the survey.
  • Literature Review: This section in the outline provides a comprehensive review of existing literature on the topic. Every other relevant work that has been written previously will be reviewed here. However, this section is not for copy and paste of other people’s content. That is plagiarism and it is punishable, so desist from it. Instead, summarize key findings, methodologies, and major contributions of each study. Also, organize the literature into themes, categories, or chronological order.
  • Methodologies and Approaches: Ensure you detail the methods you want to use in collecting and analyzing data in the literature overview. Specify the methods which will be used to analyze the research and this can be a qualitative or quantitative method.
  • Findings and Trends: Here you will summarize the key findings and trends from the literature review.
  • Challenges and Gaps: This section is where you will highlight the limitations of the studies reviewed.
  • Future Directions: Here, you will suggest potential research directions and areas for future exploration based on your findings. You will discuss how the field of study might evolve and what unanswered questions remain.
  • Conclusion: This concludes the paper and here you will summarize the key findings from the literature review and data analysis. Emphasize the overall contributions and implications of the surveyed research.
  • References: Finally, as with every research paper, ensure you list every source cited in the survey paper. Ensure you reference all the articles and reports based on the departmental-specific citation style. This can be APA, MLA, etc.

Tips on How to Write a Good Survey Paper

Writing a good survey paper can be tricky but it is achievable. The following tips will further help you in writing a good survey paper:

  • Choose a Well-Defined and Understandable Topic: Before writing a survey paper, ensure you pick an easily understandable topic. This will make the process of your review seamless without being overwhelming. Also, ensure the topic is not entirely strange to you. In other words, ensure you have a basic understanding of what you are about to review.
  • Conduct a thorough Literature Review: When working on the literature review, carefully conduct an in-depth literature review to identify and gather relevant sources. You may be presented with several options but it is recommended to pick literatures that are relevant to the topic in view. Efficiently summarize and integrate the key findings, methodologies, and contributions from each study.
  • Provide Structured Analysis: Be sure to categorize and analyze the existing research. Do this to identify patterns, trends, and knowledge gaps. Also, compare and contrast the different approaches, theories, or perspectives you come across. Once you have identified the strengths and limitations of each approach, give an in-depth insight and suggest areas for improvement.
  • Balance Depth and Breadth: This means your survey paper should not be lacking. Work to cover all aspects of the topic to balance everything out so there will be no confusion. Although, it might be necessary to provide depth in certain areas, don’t overemphasize and get carried away because your survey paper should cover a variety of perspectives and approaches.
  • Use Various Sources and Be Up-to-Date: One of the features that makes a good research paper is the use of various sources to give insight based on previous findings. However, in a quest to use various sources don’t be outdated while at it. What does this mean? It is advisable to use only materials that were published in the last five years. Anything beyond that may likely be outdated.
  • Use an Appropriate Format: A good survey paper should follow particular formatting. This is to encourage consistency and easy flow of the idea. Also, get to know the required format in your academic institution, department, or field of study, and let this guide you.
  • Keep your readers engaged: The best way to pass information across is when the intended audience understands what is written. Therefore, let your survey paper be written in a clear, organized, and reader-friendly manner. Include headings and subheadings to divide your paper into sections. Where necessary, include illustrative figures, tables, and examples to further portray your point.
  • Cite Sources Properly: This cannot be overlooked. Even though it comes in at strategic places throughout the paper, citing sources must be done accurately and consistently. Every source cited within the text should be listed in the references section.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the format of a survey paper?

Generally, the format of a survey paper includes an introduction, background, a review of existing literature, a categorization of approaches, critical analysis, possible future directions, and a conclusion. This is a generalized format so it should be adapted based on the requirements.

What are the main types of surveys?

Survey types vary based on the method being employed. Here are some of the most common types that we have; Online Surveys, In-Person Surveys, Mail Surveys, Telephone Surveys, Panel Surveys, Focus Group Surveys, and Paper Surveys among others.

What are 5 good survey questions?

Developing your survey questions begins with tailoring them to specific research goals and target audiences. However, irrespective of the diversity of your question, ensure you infuse these 5 basic questions in your survey. The, who, when, why, what, and how.

What is an example of a survey research?

Here is an example of survey research. Your survey research topic can be: “Employee Satisfaction in the Workplace”. For this research, you want to assess the employees’ overall satisfaction with different aspects of their workplace. The focus can be on work-life balance, job responsibilities, compensation, opportunities for growth, and relationships with colleagues. The survey questions would be aimed at gathering quantitative data, which will be analyzed to determine employee satisfaction levels and also identify areas for improvement within the organization.

What is the best form of survey?

There is no best form of survey because the survey to be chosen entirely depends on certain factors such as your research objectives, target audience, and the type of data you need to collect. In other words, different forms of surveys have their advantages and limitations.


Finally, being efficient and successful in writing a survey paper is a valuable skill that can significantly contribute to the advancement of knowledge in any field. Through careful planning, diligent research, and meticulous organization, you can write a survey paper that will serve as a comprehensive roadmap for navigating the existing landscape of research in any given field of study.

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