Market research software – scripting vs GUI

There’s an unspoken argument in the world of market research software. Which is better? Software that is driven by commands, usually known as scripting, or software driven by easier to use, menu driven systems, usually known as a GUI (pronounced goo-ey) or graphical user interface software.

Which is better?

I’ve seen experienced and successful users of scripting languages, dare I say it, look down on their less skilled GUI friends. And, I’ve seen experienced and successful users of GUI software wonder why their scripting friends make everything so difficult. So, who’s right? Well, I’ve said this in blog articles before – it depends. Is that just a feeble attempt by someone who sells software to scripting users and GUI users to sit on the fence? No, it’s a matter of what’s right for you. So, let’s look at the key differences.

First, the obvious, scripting is harder

Scripting in market research software is used in a variety of applications. This dates back a long while for producing tabulations and specifying CATI / CAPI surveys, but online survey specifications and automated reporting use scripting in some software systems.

It’s not really a surprise that scripting is generally more difficult than using a GUI; it’s also no surprise that scripting probably needs more skilled staff, but let’s dig a little deeper.


As scripting is more skilled, it is usually easier to make errors. Many people working as scriptwriters tend to underestimate the time they spend debugging and correcting errors in their scripts. Sometimes, errors can be difficult to see or difficult to find. With a GUI, it’s usually harder to make an error and also easier to spot errors before the input is used.


Scripting usually means that there are a number of short cuts which a GUI system may not have. Market research questionnaires can be repetitive using techniques such as rating scales or the same questions for a block of questions about different products. Scripting will usually give users more short cuts and make project specification quicker.


It’s obvious – the training needed to use a scripting language is greater than that of a GUI software package. Often, a GUI package can be learnt using common sense or by watching some training videos; training is likely to be a lot more difficult with a scripting language. Training takes time, costs money, can make staff difficult to replace or supplement in busy periods.

High volume of work

If you have a high and regular amount of work, a scripting language used by a team may be beneficial. However, tasks like questionnaire creation, data processing, data analysis and reporting may be spread across a number of people or be infrequent. In such cases, a GUI might be better. For scriptwriters to be productive, you would expect them to be using the software much of their daily life. For high volumes of throughput, scripting often wins unless the requirements are simple.


The complexity of the work that needs to be handled may be a determining factor. If you only handle small, straightforward projects, regardless of the volume, there is probably little benefit in using a powerful scripting language that needs highly skilled staff.

The more complex projects are, the more benefit that will be gained from a scripting language.

Some companies sensibly grade their work, such that complex projects are handled by scriptwriters and simpler projects are handled in a simpler system that needs less skill. This seems a good business decision where there are sufficient projects to justify the cost of buying two software systems.

Cost (software and staff)

Generally, scripting software is more expensive than GUI software. It’s not always true, but the difference can be significant, particularly in the online research market. Training and staff costs will also be higher with scripting languages. You also have to consider whether you will have overqualified staff handling simple projects in a scripting language – a common profit leak.

Don’t forget the hybrids

Of course, the software manufacturers aren’t stupid and some offer a hybrid of GUI and scripting. This can sound like an ideal solution, particularly if the software helps you to learn how to do more advanced things as you become more familiar with the software. But, beware, there are some software systems that are marketed as hybrids, but only have limited capability using a GUI.

The right business decision

Well, there’s a lot to weigh up. A previous blog article “How much does market research software cost?” discusses some of the issues. But, what is right for you will be dependent on what you are trying to do or need to achieve. I’ve worked in advising software users for many years and I am always ready to help.