Survey bias is maybe something that can’t entirely be avoided. You may have been already asking leading questions in your online surveys—if unintentionally—which affects the value and quality of your survey data. Most of the time, the most basic things such as the way you structure your questions or which phrases you use can lead to biased answers.
There are, however, ways to minimise bias in your surveys to get more accurate and more complete data. We’ll go over 7 ways to do so. But first, let’s look at what survey bias actually means.
Survey Bias Defined: Response Bias and Non-Response Bias
Survey bias can be either response bias or non-response bias. Response bias is respondents giving inaccurate answers or responses being misanalysed. Non-response bias, on the other hand, occurs when some respondents within your sample don’t respond at all, which may be a result of the inability to fully reach those respondents or simply their refusal.
In this article, we are touching more on the problem of response bias, which is defined as the gap between the true values of variables in a net sample group and the values of variables obtained from the study results.
Response bias is even trickier to avoid in online surveys, where participants give their answers privately. As there is no interviewer present when they fill in the questionnaire, you’re left in the dark about how they react to certain questions. It thus becomes essential that you do everything to ensure that your surveys are as bias-free as possible before you release them. The following tips can help you with that.
Tip #1: Use Clear Language
The language and tone you use on your survey carries a lot of weight in executing a successful survey. Go for clarity when designing your questionnaire, and as much as possible avoid too much jargon or technical terms. It helps to know your market — know the language they speak to help you craft questions that they can comprehend.
Tip #2: Choose Words and Phrases With Care
Keep in mind that the words, language, and phrases you use need to be entirely impartial and not misleading. Neutral is the catchword here. Strive for neutrality no matter how controversial the topic.
Lack of knowledge in relation to the subject also leads to biased questions, so it is crucial that whomever creates the survey is well-versed about the topic and possesses some level of awareness on the various perspectives on the subject.
Tip #3: Know How To Frame Your Questions
Avoid leading questions at all costs. You don’t want to get 'polite' answers from your respondents—you’re after facts. When you design your questions, don’t frame them in such a way that you’re most likely to get the answers you want to hear.
Also, double-check your questions for any potential of inherent bias. Sometimes, the framing of the question itself makes a lot of difference in your survey results.
Tip #4: Provide Just the Right Amount of Options
When preparing multiple-choice options, make sure that there’s enough to have all possible answers covered, yet not too much as to not confuse your respondents. It’s a good practice to include options such as Other or Not applicable to be sure that when analysing your data, you get no false positives.
Tip #5: Plan a Neutral Survey Structure
The order in which you present your questions in your online survey may also trigger biased answers and thus have an impact on your survey results. You can see just how much designing a survey is an art, as much as it is a science.
If your survey is particularly long, consider the possibility that toward the end respondents start feeling fatigued and are likely to no longer give much thought to their answers. Randomise your questions, as well as your options, as this minimises drop-offs and chances of people just randomly choosing answers.
Tip #6: Keep Styling At a Minimum
Be wary of the colours and even the typefaces you use when creating an online survey. Believe it or not, these seemingly trivial matters can also trigger response bias. People react in various ways to different colours, fonts, and interactive elements. You’d want to keep your survey styling as neutral as possible, while at the same time credible and professional. If you’re unsure, include this facet by testing the survey you created on a small group of respondents.
Tip #7: Be Honest
If you want to get honest answers, then make the first move. The introduction part of the survey is where you can communicate why and how you’re conducting the survey, and also tell respondents how much their feedback means to you. It might be a good idea to remind them that their identities will remain anonymous and that you welcome any feedback, both positive and negative.
Ensuring the accuracy and complete integrity of survey data is an ongoing challenge. But by striving for neutrality in all the facets mentioned above, it’s possible to minimise bias and get honest answers from your respondents.
Most importantly though, you will have to be willing to hear respondents’ honest answers for you to actually get them.
Feeling inspired to minimize some response bias yourself? Head on over to our sign up page to get started!
Photo credit: Georgia College (thanks, Georgia College)
P.S. If you liked this article, you might also like What To Do For a Higher Response Rate, Tips and Tricks: 5 Easy Ways To Increase Your Response Rate, and The Effect of Sample Size On a Survey's Results.
Mar 11, 2014