We compare a probability sample postal questionnaire survey and a quota controlled interview survey, and review the literature on these subjects. In contrast to other studies, where quota samples were not representative because of biased selection of respondents by interviewers, our quota sample was representative. Response rates were similar in our postal and interview surveys (74 and 77%, respectively), although many previous similar postal surveys had poor response rates. As in other comparison studies, costs were higher in our interview survey, substantive responses and the quality of responses to closed-ended questions were similar, and responses to open-ended questions were better in the interview survey. 'Socially unacceptable' responses on sexual behaviour were less likely in interviews. Quota controlled surveys are appropriate in surveys on HIV/AIDS under certain circumstances, e.g. where the population parameters are well known, and where interviewers can gain access to the entire population. Postal questionnaires are better for obtaining information on sexual behaviour, if adequate steps are taken to improve response rates, and when in-depth answers are not needed. For most surveys in the HIV/AIDS field we recommend the postal method.