6 Common Survey Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In our last post, we highlighted mistakes that torpedo your business communication. This time we’re getting a little more specific and focusing on research. There’s not one correct way to conduct a survey – no magical formula to follow – but there plenty of ways to do it incorrectly. Look below for a list of six common survey mistakes we’ve seen time and time again, and be sure to read the details under each to learn how to avoid them.

Common Survey Mistake No. 1: Using Biased Language.

​Want valid results? Keep your language neutral. The words you choose have a direct impact on the way people answer. Similarly, if you want to know how people really feel, you have to provide a range of responses that allows them to accurately express their opinions.

Common Survey Mistake No. 2: Bundling Words.

.Watch out for bundled words. We often tie different concepts together without realizing it. Let’s say you’re gathering feedback from employees regarding their supervisor. You might ask whether they feel their boss is “honest and transparent” – but that would be a mistake. A person can be very honest but hesitant to share what’s on their mind. If you want to measure honesty and transparency, you’ll need to include two separate questions.

Common Survey Mistake No. 3: Providing Answer Options That Overlap

Provide clear answer options that are mutually exclusive. One common survey mistake is to provide ranges of numbers that actually overlap, making it impossible to trust your results. Here’s an example of how to do this the WRONG way:

  • In the last 30 days, how many times have you used Product X?
  • 0-3 times
  • 3-6 times
  • 6-10 times
  • 10 or more times

And here’s how to ask the same question properly:

In the last 30 days, how many times have you used Product X?

  • 0-3 times
  • 4-6 times
  • 7-9 times
  • 10 or more times

Common Survey Mistake No. 4: Failing to Give Respondents an Option They Feel Comfortable With.

This next tip is related to the last one: With rare exceptions, it’s a bad idea to force people into selecting an answer they’re not comfortable with. In essence, they feel like they have to lie. Instead, include options like “Other” and “N/A.” You might lose a few responses to individual questions, but your respondents will be more likely to finish the survey. Some data is better than none!

​Common Survey Mistake No. 5: Asking Irrelevant Questions.

Be sure to ask the right questions of the right people. Conditional logic is a great way to reduce the burden on survey respondents and get just the answers you need. It’s a great practice to include some questions up front that funnel respondents into a set of highly relevant survey items, but double-check that every question makes sense in context. Otherwise your respondents might check out.

Common Survey Mistake No. 6: Doing It Yourself When You Really Shouldn’t.

​While it’s tempting to cut costs and attempt to do it yourself, consider the benefits of working with an expert partner. You can expect increased participation due to a heightened sense of confidentiality among respondents; professional reporting and sensemaking; and, of course, a huge reduction in the time you or your staff have to spend on research and analysis. While we would, of course, encourage you to reach out to Lexicon & Line for your survey needs, there are plenty of established research and consulting firms with the experience and expertise to develop a valid and reliable survey instrument that’s tailored to your organization.