The development of survey research is seen by many as one of the most important methodological breakthroughs in the social sciences. It has become the most widely used tool of empirical investigation in sociology and has found extensive and increasing use in disciplines ranging from anthropology to economics. For our purposes we will define a survey to mean systematic, comparable data on individuals obtained by means of one or more verbal methods of data collection, such as interviews or self-completed questionnaires. The popularity of this method lies in its ability to efficiently gather theoretically relevant data for enough cases (usually samples of larger universes) and in quantifiable forms so that statistical analysis can be carried out.
In the last decade, the use of surveys in social research in Africa has expanded considerably. During the colonial epoch, aside from an occasional cost-of-living study, an anthropological exploration into tribal life, or the often irregular census enumerations, surveys were relatively rare. The growth of universities with social science departments, the visits of foreign investigators, the studies required by outside lending agencies such as the World Bank, and the expansion of planning functions within government ministries have all increased the demand for surveys of various kinds. Researchers, supported by agencies like the United Nations, the Nordic Council and the Ford Foundation, have conducted investigations in collaboration with various governments as well as on their own. Their objectives have ranged from research into fairly abstract social phenomena, such as linguistic etymology, to measuring critical parameters that form the basic assumptions in planning operations, such as aspirations of school leavers.