Have you ever noticed that technology makes a lot of tasks easier — but it doesn’t make them foolproof? Online surveys are like that as well. Learn the problems with surveys and how to avoid mistakes ahead of time.
Twenty or thirty years ago, you had to hire a research company to do a survey. When surveys went online, you could cut a lot of the “cost” out. Still, while being able to conduct your own survey online is certainly cheaper than hiring a market research firm on the surface — it can also be like having someone give you building materials and a crew [but without passing along expertise, best practices, or a blueprint], and having YOU build your own house.
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Technology is awesome, but it doesn’t take the place of crafting a survey that returns information that will help you make good business decisions. By identifying the most common problems with surveys, you can most easily overcome the challenges to avoid survey mistakes so that your business can enjoy the benefits they provide.
What do problems with surveys mean & why do they matter?
Problems with surveys refer to various issues that can arise during survey design, administration, and analysis, leading to inaccurate or unreliable data. These issues can stem from biased sampling methods, poorly worded questions, respondent biases, errors in data entry, and more.
The significance of these problems lies in their potential to distort the information gathered through surveys and consequently impact decision-making, research, policy formulation, and resource allocation.
Here’s why problems with surveys matter:
01. Informed Decision-Making
Surveys are often used for data collection for informed decision-making in various fields, such as business, government, healthcare, and academia. Flawed survey error data can lead to decisions that are not grounded in accurate information, resulting in suboptimal outcomes.
02. Misleading Insights
If survey problems lead to biased or skewed data, the insights and conclusions drawn from the survey results can be misleading. This can lead to actions or strategies that are ineffective or counterproductive.
03. Resource Efficiency
A survey requires investments of time, money, and effort. When problems compromise the quality of survey data, these resources can be wasted on collecting information that doesn’t accurately represent the intended population or phenomenon.
04. Reputation and Trust
Organizations conducting a survey, especially those in survey research or public policy, rely on their reputation for producing reliable, valuable data. Problems with surveys can damage the organization’s credibility and erode trust in their findings.
05. Policy Implications
Surveys often inform policy decisions. When data is flawed, policies can be based on incorrect assumptions, potentially leading to policies that don’t address the real issues at hand.
06. Public Perception
Survey results influence public perceptions and discussions. If the public becomes aware of survey errors and problems, they may question the validity of the findings, affecting the broader discourse.
07. Research Integrity
In academia, research relies on accurate data to contribute to the body of knowledge. Survey problems can undermine the integrity of research and lead to incorrect or unverifiable conclusions.
08. Legal and Ethical Concerns
Decisions made based on faulty survey data could have legal or ethical consequences. For instance, biased survey outcomes leading to discriminatory actions could result in legal challenges.
09. Missed Opportunities
Accurate survey data can reveal trends, preferences, and opportunities for improvement. When surveys are compromised, these opportunities might be overlooked, impacting innovation and growth.
10. Long-Term Effects
Decisions and actions based on inaccurate survey data can have long-term consequences. These effects can ripple through organizations, communities, and even entire industries.
11. Valid Comparisons
Surveys conducted for comparison purposes, such as tracking changes over time, require consistent and reliable data. Problems with surveys can make valid comparisons difficult or impossible.
Where do problems with surveys come from?
Problems with surveys can arise from various sources, including issues related to poor survey design, administration, respondent behavior, and data analysis. Here are some common areas where problems can occur:
The sample used for the survey might not accurately represent the target population, leading to biased results and cause sampling error. This can happen if the sampling method is not random or if certain population segments are underrepresented or excluded.
The results may be skewed if a significant portion of the selected survey respondents do not participate in the survey. Those who choose not to respond might have different opinions than those who have random response bias, leading to a non-response bias.
Questions that are framed in a biased or leading manner can influence respondents’ answers and lead to inaccurate data. It’s important to use neutral and unbiased language in survey questions.
Poorly constructed response options can limit the range of possible answers or fail to capture the nuances of respondents’ opinions. For example, providing only “yes” or “no” options might not capture the complexity of certain issues.
The order in which questions are presented can influence how potential respondents answer. Priming effects, where responses to one survey question influence subsequent survey responses, can also impact the accuracy of the data.
Social Desirability Bias
Respondents might provide answers that they believe are socially acceptable or desirable rather than their true opinions or behaviors. This bias can lead to inaccurate data, particularly on sensitive topics.
Survey questions can be interpreted differently by different respondents. Ambiguous or unclear wording can result in varying interpretations and inconsistent responses.
Sampling Frame Issues
If the sampling frame (the list from which the sample is drawn) is outdated, incomplete, or inaccurate, it can lead to problems with representation and bias.
A survey that relies on volunteers or those who self-select to participate might not accurately represent the broader population, as these individuals could have different characteristics or opinions.
A long and complex survey can lead to survey fatigue, respondent fatigue, and decreased response rate and quality. Respondents might rush through or skip questions, leading to incomplete or inaccurate data.
Cultural and Language Differences
A survey administered across different cultures or languages may not effectively capture the intended meaning of questions, leading to cross-cultural bias.
Data Entry and Coding Errors
Mistakes made during data entry or coding open-ended responses can introduce errors into the dataset.
Are you making these online survey mistakes?
The accuracy of survey responses can be influenced by the clarity of questions and the respondent’s current emotional state, which might lead to inconsistent or biased answers.
1. The Questions Are Confusing or Misleading
Survey questions generally must clearly ask a specific and pointed question if you want them to yield effective results. When an individual taking a survey is confused by the question, he or she will typically not answer the question in a way that is useful to you.
After all, if the respondent believes that the question means one thing and you believe that it means another, the response will not yield any information that is reliable or trustworthy for your needs.
2. The Questions Are Too Long
Another common issue with such surveys is having too lengthy or wordy questions. It is easy to lose meaning when the questions are too long. More than that, the respondent may feel overwhelmed or may even lose focus when the questions are too long.
The best questions are those that are short, direct, and to the point. They have a specific purpose and generally have short answer options that are easy to understand.
Respondents are busy and may easily become distracted. They typically want to spend a few minutes answering questions at most, so they should have short, direct questions and answer options that help them feel they are progressing through the survey quickly.
After all, a survey will reveal limited or meaningless information if the respondent fails to answer all of the questions.
3. The Questions Do Not Identify Specific Issues or Problems
When your survey relates to a feature or product’s pros and cons, you want to obtain specific information about it. Some questions may simply ask for broad or undefined information about the problems a consumer may have or why a consumer chose one product over another one.
However, the information the respondents provide through the survey may not adequately define the problem or how a consumer may prefer the company to address the issue.
4. The Questions Use Ambiguous Rating Systems
Many surveys that companies use today ask consumers to rate their experiences on a scale of one to five or one to 10. This may give a general indication about whether a consumer feels neutral, positive, or negative about a certain area that is being questioned in the survey, but the response is rather arbitrary.
For example, a consumer that rates an area positively on a scale of one to 10 may offer an 8 when they are completely satisfied with the experience. Still, he or she may not give a 10 as a response because of the belief that a company can always do better.
On the other hand, a customer may give a 10 when they were not completely satisfied but because they do not want store staff or management to get fired or in trouble. These are purely arbitrary opinions that are based on a person’s value system or beliefs. They may indicate a positive or negative experience, but they do not provide any useful or real information for a company to improve upon.
5. Surveys Do Not Provide the Customer With the Ability to Clarify Answers
For example, it may ask a consumer which feature was most important in the buying decision, but it may not ask the consumer why that feature was important. These are examples of common survey mistakes.
There may be multiple reasons why a specific feature may be important in a buying decision, and obtaining better feedback from respondents is important for companies that want to improve products or improve their marketing message.
6. Freely Written Responses Can Be Difficult to Quantify Through Analysis
While it may be important for companies to obtain freely written or open-ended responses from their target audience through surveys, quantifying or analyzing these responses can be difficult. For example, one question may be an open-ended response scale option that asks the customer to state why they selected one product over another or to describe their experience.
Software programs can be used to analyze the responses by picking up commonly used words in the answers. Still, when you have hundreds or thousands of unique responses, it can be difficult to fully quantify them in a manner that is beneficial to the company in any real way.
This is a contradiction to the fact that customers should be provided with space to clarify their responses freely, and it generally means that businesses may need to read through each of the responses carefully to get a better idea about what the customers actually believe or think.
Overcoming These Challenges
As you can see, there are multiple challenges that companies may face when using a survey, but the survey is nonetheless beneficial and important. They can guide you in facilitating marketing decisions, product development or refinement, customer service, and more.
Generally, the feedback that you receive through these surveys can be used to give your customers a better overall experience, and they can be used to give your efforts focus and clarity.
However, in order to accomplish the goals that you have, you must find a way to overcome the challenges that are common with poorly planned and crafted surveys.
As you research and select a survey software platform, consider how they help you create, distribute and analyze surveys and how they help you make it effective. Best practice articles, how-to guides, in-depth help, blog articles, and training are all things to look for and utilize.
How QuestionPro can help in solving the problems with surveys
QuestionPro offers a comprehensive solution to survey-related challenges. With its user-friendly interface, customizable options, and advanced analytics, the platform addresses issues such as unclear questions, lengthy surveys, and ambiguous rating scales.
QuestionPro ensures precise and relevant questions through branching logic and skip patterns, while its open-ended response capabilities enable respondents to clarify answers.
The platform’s robust analysis tools help quantify qualitative data, while sample management features enhance data quality. Real-time monitoring aids in identifying and addressing issues promptly. Collaboration and integration options streamline the survey process.
QuestionPro empowers users to create an effective survey, gather accurate insights, and make informed decisions, ultimately overcoming the common pitfalls associated with survey design and administration.