The history of survey research is relatively short because surveys were not systematically or widely used until the 20th century. Professional sample surveys appeared as late as in the 1930s. Important breakthroughs in statistical theory and research practice happened before the Second World War, when the principles of probability sampling and survey data collection were generally accepted.
These developments occurred according to the purpose of survey research:
- at first, censuses were carried out (official statistics), where data about the entire population was systematically gathered using a standardised questionnaire;
- at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries surveys were already used to better understand social issues;
- studying the "average individual" by newspapers followed, where public opinion and election polls were in the centre of attention;
- marketing research surveys appeared after that, where opinions on products and services were studied.