Surveys are such a fantastic way to gather information about, well, pretty much anything you can think of. Whether you’re trying to analyse and improve the customer experience you provide as a business, looking for a way to boost the morale or productivity of your employees or anything between the two, a survey is a great way to go about it.
However, no matter what the survey’s about, or who’s getting involved in it, you’re bound to come across bias which is guaranteed to falter the results, leading to inaccuracies and problems with your execution.
Nevertheless, with an extra bit of attention, organisation, and the right knowledge in mind, there are ways to reduce the problems that bias can cause within your surveys. This ensures you only have genuine results to work with that can be turned into effective action to help you achieve your goals.
Let’s jump straight into how to achieve this.
The Wording of Your Questions
Sometimes, you’re going to get a bit of bias in the survey simply by accident. This could be because of how the questions have been worded, making someone take it in a way you hadn’t intended, thus providing you with a false answer.
When writing your questions, it’s absolutely vital to make sure the sentences are not crafted in a way that appears to be asking for a positive or negative response. You need to maintain a neutral position that doesn’t put ideas into the head of the person answering them.
As a rule of thumb, make sure you’re keeping the questions as short and as concise as possible. This means they’ll be next-to-no room for misinterpretation and the minimal risk of someone taking the question the wrong way.
You’ll always need to be thorough with your research in this area of survey making in order to ensure it doesn’t happen. Try to especially pay attention to topics and subjects where the reader may feel sensitive about a certain issue, and there may be the risk of involving a strong public opinion.
Order Your Questions Wisely
Even the order in which questions are presented to your readers can impact the way they’re answered. Most notably, if you’re asking potentially controversial topics first, this is going to put your readers into a certain mindset that can possibly affect the outcome of future questions.
For example, in an employee survey, if you ask, ‘are you happy with how the managers treat the staff?’, you may have someone who hates the managers, and this then puts them into a negative mindset.
If you then follow-up with a question like ‘are you happy with working here?’, they’re going to be thinking about the managers and the situations they’ve been in and will probably vote ‘no’, even if they really do enjoy working in the company.
The Format of Your Questions
When it comes to creating surveys, there are several approaches you could take while choosing how you present the questions to your readers. Understanding the importance behind the formatting is one of the best ways you’ll boost the success rate of your operation, while also minimising the bias.
For example, if you’re looking for set answers within a certain topic, such as ‘what is your favourite food?’, the list of possibilities are endless, so you’re better off providing a multiple-choice question here, where you can work with the outcome of the answers.
On some other questions, you might be looking for a more personal opinion or a personal insight/detail, so you may provide space for them to write.
Understanding Your Niche
It’s possible for different types of surveys to receive different levels of bias or have a higher or lower risk of biased answers when compared to other surveys. You need to be aware of this in order to plan, design and execute the right action plans.
A great example of this is to ask why people like one brand in comparison to another. Of course, this is a perfectly valid question, but with plain and simple wording, you’re going to get lots of different results that run along the same lines, thus giving you a biased answer.
As we mentioned above, the best thing to do here is to remain concise throughout and ask specific questions that can only receive specific answers. The more concise and precise you can be, the better your results will be, and the more beneficial your actions will be overall.
This will all depend on the target audience taking your survey and the way you’ve worded your questions. Instead of asking someone what their favourite prestigious brand of car is – which is only going to attract similar results – you need to research what you’re going to say, get a baseline of information, and then move into crafting your questions.
Another prime example of this is when it comes to alcohol. Everybody tends to have their go-to brand, so of course, they’re going to choose it if it comes up in the survey; this is where you need to be more specific with your questions to ask why they like what they drink, as opposed to what their preferred brand is.
Does Anything Seem Wrong?
Before we move onto the final points of how to avoid survey bias, one of the easiest and most effective ways to spot bias in your surveys is to simply look for it. Perhaps one of the questions that was framed initially may not actually be coming across right, but you wouldn’t have paid attention to it until it’s reviewed it again.
Likewise, if a trend or a pattern doesn’t match what you expected, is drastically different or unexpected, or is completely impossible, you’re going to need to take a step back and reconsider your results.
“If you’re reading through your results, and it seems like one of the results doesn’t seem right, go through your data and check for yourself to see whether it’s a feasible result, otherwise you need to double-back and go through the survey to see what might have happened to cause such varying results”, explains Tom Gunsman, a survey manager.
This consideration revolves a lot around having common sense. You need to be able to go into the process of analysing your survey results with an open yet focused mind in order to get the best results and to spot any irregularities.
Styles and Designs of Your Survey
Think about a situation where someone is going to be taking the survey – who they are and what they are going to be doing. For the most part, some people might get bored of filling it in especially if it’s compulsory, so you’ll need to make sure they remain engaged. This will stop them from doing things like ticking the same box, just so they can quickly get through to the end.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is to add a creative touch to the survey in the form of branding, design, colour, and flare. This is a great way to maintain the focus of your participant and to stop them from viewing it as an exhaustive exercise. Of course, the more engaged somebody is, the more accurate and honest the answers are going to be.
“It might even help to show examples using relevant images where possible for each question to illustrate what you’re saying more easily, thus improving the time within which it can be completed, and minimising boredom or fatigue”, shares Michelle Gidney, a survey researcher.
Make Everything Understandable
While we spoke above about keeping things simple and concise, it doesn’t mean that more complex concepts and ideas shouldn’t be broken down to improve readability and understanding.
If you have any projects or information that you think the participant needs to understand, it would be wise to have a one-pager, or ideally a video, to help them grasp the concept.
Of course, you don’t want to patronise the person taking the survey, but it can be extremely beneficial to give them the option.
Consider the Time Period of the Questions
Think about the kind of information you’re requesting from the people taking the survey. Are you asking them to think about a purchase they made last week, last month or last year? Are you asking them to think about a situation that happened five years ago?
The further back a person has to think to answer a question, the more likely it is for the answer to be wrong.
Of course, this completely depends on the type of question being asked, but ideally, if it is a time-framed question, you need to ensure that the question and the accompanying time frame are relevant in order to achieve the best results.
Have a Way of Tracking Metrics
The final most important thing you’ll want to do is to make sure there’s a way of accurately tracking the metrics of your survey. You might get everybody answering perfectly and have no bias, but due to a system error, or the way results are perceived, you may want to create it on your own.
Author: Grace Carter – Content Editor.