I don’t know the AAPRO well enough to know if they were trying to be funny, but I laughed at the language they used to write this survey particular tip: Maximize cooperation or response rates within the limits of ethical treatment of human subjects.
Medical and psychological researchers have strict ethical guidelines in place dealing with people in their research, maybe people who run Web surveys need some also. Here is our input into guidelines that should be included in a manifesto for being kind to human participants in market research studies.
- Never force someone to give you a wrong answer – When Steve Carrell gave Conan O’Brien his exit interview on the Tonight Show and asked if working at NBC was “great”, “really great” or “fantastic”, I had a flashback to real-life employee survey I had to take years ago. Web surveys should always cover every possible option someone could give or offer an “other” option. A good survey will have a comments area at the end to allow users to clarify anything they felt didn’t represent their input.
- Use complex ranking or rating matrices with caution – It is just plain painful to answer long rating or ranking questions even when you deeply care about the subject. You always end up missing at least one line and get that oh-so-not-helpful “please answer number 14”. Be kind and use matrices sparingly and only when there are no other approaches to get the answer you’re looking for.
- Don’t ask questions that simply don’t matter – Seriously, does my ISP need to know if I’m a man or a woman? Is that going to change the way that they deliver service to me? If it does, then by all means ask, but I frequently feel like somebody took a market research 101 class back in their first year of college and ever since have opened with demographic questions on age, gender, and ethnicity independent of if it matters to the survey goals. There is something to be said for asking “warm-up” questions that are easy to answer, but surely there is something more interesting then gender to ask. [UPDATE: Of course there is always the “Elinor Exception” to this rule as rightly pointed out in the comments. If you need to add a sanity check on the quality of the sample, then go ahead and ask the gender question.]
- Don’t expect participants to know all your lingo – Seriously. Speak plain English (or French or Spanish or Chinese or Japanese or whatever language your participants do). Don’t throw in tons of jargon without defining it first.
- Be realistic about how long your research takes – It seems as if every survey in the world is “10 minutes” long. Surely you can have at least one person who didn’t write the survey questions try it out and tell you how long it realistically takes an average person.
I’m sure at Dimensional Research we have on occasion broken one of these rules, but we try our hardest to ensure our participants don’t suffer in the process of giving their feedback. We’re always happiest if they actually enjoy it.
What would you add to a “Manifesto on Ethical Treatment of Survey Takers”?