Better Data through Better Survey Design

Market researchers complain a lot when they get data back from surveys and see that people have been “speeding” through their surveys or that people are not giving thoughtful responses.

But the problem is rarely “bad respondents” – instead the problem is lazy researchers.  When people discover that the survey they just agreed to take is boring, tedious, repetitive, or too long, they either quit altogether or they stop providing good answers.

It is our job to elicit good data through good design, and to keep respondents – the lifeblood of our work – satisfied and thoughtful.  In a recent article in Alert, a publication of the Market Research Association, Jackie Lorch, VP of Survey Sampling International suggested one way to do this:  Use wording within the questionnaire that “speaks” to respondents, thanks them, and encourages them, in the same way we might do during a one-on-one interview.  Here are four specific suggestions she offers (reproduced verbatim):

1. Acknowledge the considerable effort people are giving.  For example:

The survey is quite long, and there are many questions, which you will have to think quite hard about.

2. Thank people for their effort with specific words which go beyond the usual, casual “thank you for your opinion.”  For example:

Thank you for completing the questionnaire so far. We realize that some of the questions you’ve been answering are not easy, and have required some real thought, especially that last group.

3. Remind people that we know they have a choice to take part or to complete the whole questionnaire.  For example:

Please click on the “next” button when you are ready to continue.

4. Reassure people that survey-taking is an activity in which people like them participate – but at the same time there are some aspects which may seem a bit odd.  For example:

People all over the nation and from all walks of life are taking part. The questions may seem a bit strange at first.

Versta Research believes that to serve our clients, we also need to serve our research respondents.  They are the ones who provide the information and data that we transform into stories, providing the deep insight that clients need.

Joe Hopper, Ph.D.

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