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reasearch bias

Research Bias ... and How to Avoid it.

While it may never be possible to conduct survey research that’s 100% bias-free, the goal is to minimize it. That means making sure questions are thoughtfully posed and delivered in a way that allows respondents to reveal their true feelings without distortions.

Here are four common types of respondent bias:

Acquiescence bias: Address this by removing questions that imply there is a “right answer” and replace with questions that are worded as neutral as possible.

Social desirability bias: Some people are prone to report inaccurately on sensitive topics to present themselves in the best possible light.  Using indirect questioning – as in what a third-party might think about an issue – can help respondents provide a more honest answer.

Habituation bias: Paying attention in longer surveys takes energy. Some respondents react to “survey fatigue” by going on auto-pilot, providing similar responses across multiple ques-tions. Introducing varied question wording can temper these effects. Try shortening the survey length too, if it’s possible.

Sponsor bias: When respondents know (or think they know) the sponsor of the research, their feelings about that sponsor may influence the answers they provide.  Go with sponsor anonymity as a general rule, and make sure questions are structured so as to limit even the “suggestion” of who might
be the sponsor.

There are also several researcher bias pitfalls to avoid:

Question-order bias: One single question on a survey can influence the answers to subsequent ones.  Minimize the chance of bias by asking general questions before specific ones … unaided recall questions before aided ones … and positive questions before negative ones.

Confirmation bias: A trap that ensnares too many companies, confirmation bias gives too much weight and reliability to respondents who confirm a research hypothesis, while downplaying or dismissing evidence that doesn’t support the hypothesis.  Continually reevaluating your assumptions and hypotheses are the best way to guard against this bias creeping into your research.

Projection bias: It’s easy to fall into this trap as well.  Confirming a research hypothesis can be a self-fulfilling prophecy by drawing too close a correlation between stated opinions or feelings … and actual behavior.  Avoid taking what respondents “say” beyond where it is wise to go. Consider discounting values on quantitative responses.  As the saying goes … “Talk is cheap.”

The bottom line is this:  Bias in qualitative research will always be out there.  But it can be minimized if you know what to look for and how to manage it in survey design, execution and analysis.  Paying attention to the factors above will help ensure that you’re getting the “truest picture” – and planning your product development, sales and marketing activities based on more honest prospects.


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