Is bad data better than no data at all?
Not really. In fact, inaccurate, unrepresentative data can do much more harm than a complete lack of data. With that in mind, we should all be considering the question: just how accurate are those survey results we’re relying on?
The answer: it depends. On what? A number of factors.
Does this mean you should abandon the idea of using an online survey to gather data? Not at all. It just means you have to use the right tools (and ask the right questions) to ensure you’re getting accurate survey results.
Online Surveys: Pros and Cons
There are upsides and downsides to many tools nonprofits use, and online surveys are no exception. The first step in getting accurate survey results is understanding how online surveys work — including their strengths and their weaknesses.
Pro: Easy and inexpensive to administer
Unlike door-to-door or telephone surveys that require trained staff to administer, an online survey has the “set it and forget it” magic. Once you’ve created and published your survey, there is virtually no work involved in collecting responses.
Con: Text is more easily misinterpreted than a person asking questions
When you’re asking questions face to face, there’s a good chance you’ll notice if the respondent is hesitant to answer or doesn’t understand the question. Not so with a text-based online survey. (This problem can be solved by careful, deliberate survey development. Ensure all questions are clear and easy for respondents to understand.)
Pro: More respondents
Have you attempted a door-to-door or telephone survey lately? The Los Angeles Times found that fewer than 10% of people contacted for telephone surveys completed them. Mobile phones and do not call lists can make it hard to get the responses you need.
Con: Difficult to make online surveys representative
To be truly unbiased, every member of a population must have an equal chance at answering the survey. Digital discrimination means whole communities who lack access to online data are being overlooked. If the group you’re studying doesn’t have reliable internet access, accurate survey results will be impossible to obtain online.
How to Get Accurate Survey Results Online
Once you understand the pros and cons of using an online survey to collect data, there are a few ways to ensure you get the most accurate survey results possible. Remember to:
Phrase all questions (and answers) in a way that will be clear to those completing the survey.
Clarity in your survey questions is critical, as you won’t have the same opportunity to explain questions you would have in a survey administered in person. Just because a question seems clear to you and your team, doesn’t mean it will seem as simple to your audience. Put yourself in their shoes — consider all possible ways your questions could be interpreted.
Provide an option for respondents who don’t know or aren’t sure of the answer.
Avoid incomplete or inaccurate answers prompted by multiple choice questions that force respondents to choose an unsuitable answer. Always include an option that allows users to indicate the set responses (or indeed, entire questions) don’t apply to them. Think “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” or “Not applicable.”
Weight your responses to ensure they represent the population you’re studying.
Weighting your responses to make sure they accurately represent the community you’re gathering data on is a crucial step towards collecting accurate survey results. Of course, weighting can be a lot of extra work — so choose a survey tool that does the heavy lifting for you.
Conduct a pilot test before you send your survey out into the wild.
Share your survey with a small sample group (ideally from the community you plan to administer it to) and check the results. Are you getting the data you need? Are there odd or inexplicable patterns in your results? Do your respondents seem to understand the questions? A little time on analysis of a test version can save you a lot of time and effort if something is not quite right.
Veracio: For More Accurate Survey Results
Are you ready to take your first step out into the world of online surveys or do you want an online survey tool that will provide you with more accurate survey results? Veracio is at your service. Create a free account and you can build surveys that will automatically weight results using US Census data. (International data coming soon!)
Still have questions? We’ll do our best to answer them. Contact our team today!