Online surveys bore respondents & damage data quality

The declining response rates and poor data quality of online surveys are the result of people becoming bored with the presentation and mechanics of what they are seeing, according to a study.

The study, carried out by Engage Research and Global Market Insite, claims that high drop-out rates compromise the quality of both sample and data.

It states that online questionnaires need to address key factors such as visual presentation, repetitive question formats and length in order to effectively engage respondents and maintain the "integrity and actionability" of research data.

Engage Reserach and GMI examined the drop-out rates from over 550 surveys and correlated these with survey length and question formats.

The study also asked a sample of 200 online panellists what bored and frustrated them in online questionnaires.

It then compared static HTML questionnaires with those using Flash animation and traditional question formats with more innovative ones, in order to identify alternative question presentations that would engage better with respondents.

The research revealed that if boredom sets in, respondents increase the speed at which they answer questions, leading to fewer responses being given generally, and a loss of data quality due to a combination of increased pattern answering and a shift away from using scale extremities.

Respondents said that relevance of subject matter and an interest in the questions were influential in deciding whether they would complete a survey or not.

Key research findings included that a lot of people drop out within the first five minutes of an online interview, but once passed this threshold they are more likely to complete the survey, regardless of length.

The study also showed that certain question formats are more likely to trigger drop-out than others, such as grids, which generate 80% more drop-out than other question formats.

Engage and GMI recommend more visually appealing and engaging mechanisms such as scrolling matrices or drag and drop, along with the use of Flash animation.

Deborah Sleep, director at Engage Research, said: "The research industry has focused too much on trying to replicate question formats from other data collection methods into an online environment, and not enough on the new and different features that online data collection has to offer.

"Researchers, clients and panel providers need to be more respondent-friendly and create more engaging ways of collecting data in the not too distant future."

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