A survey can be an effective method of conducting research across a wide body of people of varying demographics. There are two main methods for conducting surveys: you can either choose to use a survey company like YouGov or Opinium, which charge a fee to run the survey, but guarantee a certain number of responses, or you can build and market the survey yourself using a software such as MailChimp.
Although drastically cutting the cost of the research and allowing more control over the design and layout, surveys that you market yourself are not guaranteed to receive responses and receiving less than you’d originally hoped for can have a massive impact on the research. Another common problem with surveys is that participants are not always honest with their answers, tainting the results.
I’ve compiled some handy tips to help you get the most out of your survey respondents when conducting the research yourself.
Obtaining more responses
Upon receiving a survey invitation, many people may disregard the offer if it has been sent from an unknown source or company, in comparison to larger, well-known organisations such as YouGov. A good way to combat this is by clearly explaining the purpose of the research, as well as how you intend to use the answers provided. With these little bits of extra information, many participants will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts with you.
When reaching out to members of the public with a survey, you need to appreciate that you are asking someone to take time out of their day in order to help you conduct research. Be respectful of the participants’ time; inform them of a rough time scale for how long the survey will take to complete, and consider adding a progress bar at the bottom of each page. This progress bar will give participants a visual representation of how far through the survey they are, encouraging them to keep going.
Keep your survey questions short, sweet and simple. Be straight to the point, asking specific questions that the target participants should understand. Avoid using complicated jargon to reduce the likelihood of confusion, as this can lead to the abandonment of the survey. It’s also worth taking the time to ensure that the survey questions flow well in the order you’ve placed them. If you are asking questions that span over a variety of topics, try and group certain questions together, rather than flitting back and forth between themes. Be sure to add an option for ‘don’t know’, ‘not sure’ or ‘other’, as not all respondents will feel as though they correctly fit into the other available answers.
Participants may be completing the survey on a desktop computer, a mobile device or a tablet. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that your survey is optimised for all device types. If a mobile user tries to complete the survey but the questions do not fit in correctly within their phone screen or the interactive elements are hard to manoeuvre, they will most likely abandon it.
Offering an incentive to participants can be a great way to increase responses to a survey. For example, offering participants a discount code for your brand may entice more people to complete it purely to receive the discount. There is, however, an issue with this tactic: when people are completing a survey purely for the purpose of receiving an incentive after, you are much more likely to get untrue responses and ‘slap-dash’ answers. Participants are not answering to assist your research, but instead for a reward. Luckily, studies into behavioural sciences have concluded some ways to entice participants to be more truthful in their responses.
Encouraging truthful responses
It’s a proven fact that people lie. Not everybody likes to admit that they do, but everybody is capable of lying and most people do on a regular basis. These may be very small white lies, but when it comes to conducting research, untruthful answers can ruin an entire campaign. It’s common that during a survey, respondents will try and answer with what they think the researcher wants to hear, rather than what they truly believe. People’s tendency to truthfulness is fluid; it can be influenced in either direction. Here are some tips to nudge your participants closer to the truth.
Within the legal system, anybody who is making a statement or being questioned within the court must take an oath, swearing to tell the truth. It’s been proven that prompting people to tell the truth can result in a higher volume of truthful answers, in comparison to not prompting, where more people are then inclined to lie. Include a prominent statement at the start of your survey reminding participants to be honest with their answers. This doesn’t guarantee total honesty, but it will yield more truthful answers than not.
Often people are untruthful with survey responses as they are ashamed or embarrassed by their real answers, fearing that perhaps they’ll be judged on their honest responses. A great way to combat this is by allowing anonymity. For a lot of research, you’ll want respondents to specify certain information about their demographics, such as age and gender. Always allow respondents to remain nameless, and never ask too personal questions such as the exact location of their home. If you need geographic information, allow respondents to broadly select their area to keep the feeling of anonymity.
Another reason participants may not be truthful with their responses is that they know they can’t be fact-checked. Especially when maintaining anonymity, respondents are aware that the researcher does not know their identity, so would never know if they were lying. A way to combat this is to emphasise at the start of the survey that all answers will have their honesty analysed. The beauty of this tactic is that you don’t really need to analyse the answers, simply telling participants that you will is often enough to prompt more truthful responses. This is seen throughout psychology with an experimental technique called ‘bogus pipeline’, where participants are hooked up to a lie detector (which isn’t turned on, but they believe it is). These experiments show that people tend to be more truthful if they believe they may be caught out on a lie. Obviously, you won’t be hooking people up to a fake lie detector when completing surveys, but the principle still stands: tell participants that you will assess their honesty, and you should see more honest answers as a result.
There are certain questions, known as trigger questions, that often provoke a higher percentage of false answers. These are questions that brush the topics of our behaviours, beliefs and belonging. In some instances, you will require answers related to these topics, so be careful with the wording to ensure participants don’t feel as though you’re asking anything too personal. People become defensive when asked questions about themselves and the way they live their lives, so be mindful not to come across as patronising or judgemental in any way.
Finally, an effective method for encouraging truthful answers in a survey is to put the participants in someone else’s shoes. People often want to give the ‘right’ answer when talking about themselves, but become much more truthful when asked the same question about somebody else. This is a great tactic to consider when asking the trigger questions discussed above: people will be more truthful in answering questions about someone else’s behaviour, beliefs or belongings in comparison to their own.