Survey Bias and How to Avoid it

Avoiding survey bias is a constant, ever-changing battle market researchers have to fight on a daily basis. Okay, maybe it's not that dramatic but knowing how to avoid survey bias is what separates professional market researchers from your Average Joe with a SurveyMonkey account. 

The term "survey bias" is incredibly broad, and can encompass a number of different issues. Typically, survey bias comes in one of three forms: 

Sampling Bias

A survey doesn't have to be in the field yet to experience bias. Sampling bias, easily enough, refers to bias when selecting the target audience. For example, if you were surveying town residents based on their presence at a local mall, you might be excluding those residents who don't have disposable income. 

  • How to avoid: While there are many ways to avoid sampling bias, one of the more popular methods is implementing quotas. For example, let's say we're collecting 100 surveys among town residents, and the most recent census data claims 20% of the town's residents have a college degree. To ensure accurate representation, 20 surveys out of 100 should be collected from residents with a college degree. Quotas are a balancing act though. The more you implement, the more difficult it is to collect data. 

Questionnaire Bias 

Questionnaire bias, also known as response bias, comes in many different types. The most common type of questionnaire bias occurs during the survey question writing process. 

  • How to avoid: One of the most common types of questionnaire bias are leading questions. Leading questions, either intentionally or unintentionally, coerce a participant to select a certain response. The best way to avoid this is evaluate and remove any language that may imply intent. The best rule of thumb is, if you're uncertain, remove the language. 

Survey Fraud 

Do you remember that one kid in school who used to just fill in random bubbles on every multiple choice test? While that might be just fine for lowering your GPA, it is definitely not fine when completing a survey. Survey fraud, quite simply, refers to any and all fraudulent activity when completing a survey. 

  • How to avoid: The 21st Century has really been a boon to market researchers needing to detect survey fraud. In fact, most, if not all, online survey platforms are able to detect fraud automatically and remove fraudulent responses, so all the kids who randomly filled in their tests in school can't apply the same tactics this time around.