The “social survey” developed as a method of investigation in conjunction with the rise of the charity organization movement, the rationalization and professionalization of social work, and the growth of journalism, exemplified by COS's journals.
During the heyday of scientific charity, journals and periodicals emerged to help a national network of charity organizations maintain greater efficiency and standardize professional practices. In 1891, COS founded the journal Charities Review, which offered advice and analyses of social issues faced by charity organizations throughout the country. In the beginning, these journals were highly specialized and not widely known outside of welfare circles. In 1897, Edward T. Devine, the most prominent American writer on social welfare and the longtime General Secretary of COS, launched another publication called Charities, a monthly and then later a weekly "review of local and general philanthropy." Between 1902 and 1909, Charities embraced early developments in progressive thinking that conceptualized poverty not as the failing of an individual, but as the result of complex interrelationships among corrupt systems. During those years Charities published articles on progressive issues such as child labor, housing reform, immigration, black Americans' migration to Northern cities, and the settlement movement, which was transforming the ways in which the upper and middle classes interacted with the poor. It was during this time that the journal began using photographs and other forms of visual information to supplement articles. In 1905, Charities again changed names, merging with a popular journal of the settlement movement to become Charities and the Commons. Upon the successful completion of the Pittsburgh Survey in 1908, the Charities Publication Committee decided it was time to change the name of the journal to something that more closely reflected its current orientation. While the idea of "charity" no longer embodied the journal's interests, "survey" clearly did. Paul Kellogg and his staff decided to change the name of the journal to The Survey in homage to the new kind of social analysis first undertaken in Pittsburgh.