How to Improve The Quality of Your Data and the Honesty of Your Respondents

My father-in-law likes to say “The brain is smart” whenever we do or say something truly obvious.  Think of that phrase as a sort of alternative to “Duh”!  Actually, the human brain is a rather tricky thing.  And if you want to get into exactly how our brains trick us — you really aught to read Dan Ariely’s latest book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

I read Dana Stanley’s interview with Dan Ariely on the Research Access blog and thought I’d share some ideas I got from his article with you.

The entire discussion was on making it easy for respondents to tell the “truth” — that is respond honestly.  In the article, they go through several circumstances where people will want to lie — not because they are bad people, but because they just don’t want to share the information with you.

Most often in the case of online surveys, people don’t respond honestly because they just don’t want to take the time to actually read the instructions or stop and think about their answers.  This is what interested me most because (I will be honest here) I’ve done that more times than I can remember for online surveys.  I mean the questions seem unending, the rating scales, the directions — who has time for 40 questions?!  So I just blow right through them – click on the neutral rating or skipping over the open ended questions.  There – I’ve said it.

How to increase respondent participation and honesty

Here are a few recommendations that Dan gave that will help you increase your respondent’s participation and honesty –

  1. Introduce them to the researchers. This is highly unusual, but I can see why it would be effective.  You can insert pictures of the researchers into your introduction to the survey and then fully explain — in practical terms that matter to the respondent — why the research is important and what impact their answers will have.To insert a picture inside your QuestionPro online survey – simply click on the “Intro Text” when you start your survey and then use basic HTML code to insert your picture.  imageIf you’re like me and don’t have a CLUE about how to write HTML – you can cheat by going into your WordPress blog and writing out your question as well as inserting a picture in the Visual Editor and then simply click on HTML and you’ll see that text converted into HTML – you can then copy that code into the QuestionPro Intro Text box.
  2. Have them “sign” or mark a promise for honesty.  Another terrific suggestion is to have the respondents read and sign an honesty pledge.  They don’t need to literally sign in — they just need to click on the box that says that they have read and understand that this is important research and that they will be open, honest and truthful.
  3. Tap into social proof.  In other words, tell them what others people in their same demographic have done.  Whenever people aren’t sure what to do or which way to go — they will simply do what everyone else is doing.  If you give them statistic of how long it took other people to fill out the survey or tell them that other people have done a particular task, they will see this as socially acceptable and follow suit.

As you can see from this example, increasing the quality of your data isn’t just about how you structure your questions or the length of your survey — you can have a big impact on the quality of your data by simply make a few small, but powerful adjustments to the introduction of your survey.

Have you tried any of these methods before?  What’s been your outcome?