The word "survey" comes from the Latin sur (over) and videre (to see), and it eventually came to mean a general or comprehensive view of anything. Studies that involve the systematic collection of data about populations are usually called surveys. This is especially true when they are concerned with large or widely dispersed groups of people. When they deal with only a fraction of a total population—a fraction representative of the total—they are called sample surveys. The term "sample survey" should ideally be used only if the part of the population studied is selected by accepted statistical methods.
Surveys can be classified broadly into two types—descriptive and analytical. In a descriptive survey the objective is simply to obtain certain information about large groups. In an analytical survey, comparisons are made between different subgroups of the population in order to discover whether differences exist among them that may enable researchers to form or verify hypotheses about the forces at work in the population.
Surveys differ in terms of purpose, subject matter, coverage, and source of information. In the field of epidemiology, surveys have been used to study the history of the health of populations, diagnose community health, study the working of health services, complete the clinical history of chronic diseases, search for the cause of health and disease, contribute to the formation of health care policy, and to evaluate the effects of different approaches to the organization of health services. More recently, health-survey data have been identified as a key resource for the development of health indicators, such as alcohol consumption and the prevalence of smoking, in the twenty-first century. The Health for All initiative of the World Health Organization is a policy that can be translated into three operational goals: increase in life expectancy and sustainable life; improved equity in health between and within countries; and access for all to sustainable health systems. Efforts have been made to promote standards for international comparability of such health indicators.
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