Arguably, one of the easiest methods of research (besides observation) is the survey. Design a survey, get it approved, and hand it out to the masses! This is a quick and fast way to gain a lot of research. With the introduction of the internet and technology, sending out surveys became ten times easier and a thousand times more effective. Doesn’t it? With the internet, you only need to share a link, and depending on how you share it, you can receive thousands of responses. This should make the survey a more valuable tool to the researcher, right?
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the survey. In fact, there are many.
The first problem comes when you build your survey and how you word your questions. You MUST make sure that your questions don’t promote a bias in their wording. What do I mean? Well, let me provide an example:
Question 1 – How would you improve the flavor of Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream?
Question 2 – What would you like to see added to Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream?
The wording in Question 1 implies that Mighty Moose’s Chocolate Ice Cream’s flavor needs improving, or that it is less than par. Just by this simple wording, you make your audience assume that the flavor is of a lesser quality. This is actually a big problem when it comes to creating a survey. How do other researchers know that you didn’t phrase your question like this purposefully to gain specific answers to support your view? With just a slight change, look at the wording in Question 2. This question doesn’t assume that the flavor of Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream is good or bad, instead the question appeals to the personal taste of the audience taking the survey. If I was conducting a survey in order to determine if people disliked Mighty Moose Chocolate Ice Cream, I could phrase all my questions like Question 1 and probably have a lot of research to support my claim. But that research isn’t fully unbiased.
The second problem comes with authenticity in surveys. When you conduct surveys, you can only assume that the people who take your survey are being honest. Due to the anonymity of a survey, there is no way for you to check the accuracy behind the survey answers. This doubles up if they survey is taken around other people. Even though the survey is anonymous, the surroundings of a person taking the survey can influence their answers. For example:
A survey is given to a class of 9th grade boys asking about their sexual experiences and alcohol consumption. Not every one of these kids may have participated in either of these options, but one friend sitting too close to another can influence the answer of a survey taker. Even though the answers might be anonymous to the researcher, these boys could still change their answers if not provided a safe place to take the survey.
A good way to prevent this unwanted influence is to provide a more private place for the survey to be taken. It could be a booth provided by the researcher that allows a participant to fill the survey in private or it could be as simple as asking the participants to spread out in a room so they have more privacy. Obviously, the first option would be more effective, but that might not be a possibility depending on your time constraint or budget.
A final problem with surveys are outliers. Outliers are pieces of data that are far away from the norm. For example, if you were to present a survey to the general population about how many times that go skydiving a year and a skydiving instructor happens to take the survey. Well he goes skydiving two hundred times a year, which is much more than the average person. His results alone could skew the average data. So, since the skydiving instructor is such an outlier, you decide to remove his answer. The problem comes with deciding who is an outlier and how many you can cut. It is possible to show bias just off of what data you decide to show and not show.
Surveys are a great resource for researchers and should be taken advantage of. In order to have strong research from a survey, you must create the survey very carefully and attempt to keep it unbiased.