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Framing Surveys to Get Productive, Honest Answers

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Someone forwarded us a screenshot from an online survey for a noted market research company. The image shows a confusing question with a rather obvious answer.

If you’ve ever participated in a market research study, you know that the first step is to find out if you are in the demographic. For example, a company might be interested in the viewpoints of people who are of a certain gender and age. They also might want to know what other products you regularly use:

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Although this is the work of a highly-respected national firm, it should be obvious that these answers don’t make sense. If you’re supposed to “check all that apply” why does it include the “None of these” choice? There’s really no reason to list that option at all.

More importantly, every participant knows that this is a paid market research study. That means there is a “right answer” that will get you into the study and a “wrong answer” that will leave you without the stipend. Yet by giving the participant the chance to “check all that apply” the survey designer makes this fairly obvious. What kind of market research would be interested in people who don’t use other competing products? Shouldn’t you check something?

Considering that 80% of the choices are beverages, it’s pretty likely that this project is for some kind of drink. Furthermore, it’s probably something social and tasty, rather than a health-conscious item. If you are just filling out surveys so that you might be selected, you can stretch the truth to increase your chances. One article even recommends this approach:

One of the questions you will be asked is if you have participated in a focus group in the past 6 months. You’ll answer no if you know what’s good for you. If you know the market research subject (it’s ok to ask), tailor your answers to it. Don’t lie as this can get you in trouble but you will get into more research studies if you answer the right way.


© Flickr user Michael Coghlan

Developing an effective process requires understanding stakeholder motivation. If the people who are taking part in a study receive some compensation, they will have an incentive to try and figure out the answers needed to get them in the door. Learn more about how to create workflow that takes motivation into account. It’s no easy task, for sure, but if you aren’t going to get accurate and honest answers, then there really isn’t any reason to do a market research study in the first place. Taking the extra steps required to ensure that you get productive, honest answers will be well worth it.

There are many ways to get more accurate answers, some simple and some are more complex. Science Buddies broke down some suggestions for designing a survey. One of their nice, simple tips is to ensure consistency for the answer choices.

Consistency is very important in writing the list of responses. All of the responses should be similar so that no single response stands out to the individual except the answer that is true for them. Consistency simply helps to ensure that you are not leading respondents to a particular answer by making that answer different from the others. It also makes it much easier for respondents to find the answer that is relevant to them.

No one technique is going to be enough to get 100% honest answers, but even a small step in the right direction can be a big improvement. For more insight on how to better approach market research, contact our business improvement specialists today!

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