6 Types of Survey Respondents to Be Cautious About

A survey is essentially a research methodology employed to collect data from a predefined group of respondents to gain insights into specific topics of interest.

For the most part, survey research aims to assess a specific market or user needs or determine whether or not particular business objectives have been met. This helps to establish baselines against which future comparisons can be made.

However, a vital ingredient that is central to the success of any survey research is appropriate respondents recruitment in order to get representative respondents for a target market. 

types of Survey Respondents

Who are survey respondents?

A survey respondent is essentially any individual who answers a survey distributed via email, mobile apps, websites, QR codes, or social media. 

Survey respondents are typically sought from samples of the population. However, it’s important to point out that surveys only provide estimates for the true population. Not exact measurements!

Why are survey respondents needed for user research?

Survey respondents can make or break a user research project. The data provided from respondents generate a number of variables that can be actionably studied. For example, the right sample size allows researchers to make fair generalisations. However, a small sample size limits their ability to identify patterns and spot trends.

As a result, finding the right survey respondents is mission-critical to the success of your survey. However, this is sometimes difficult to do. 

Survey respondents to watch out for

Generally speaking, survey respondents come in multiple forms, shapes, and sizes. This means that sometimes there are bad apples, good ones, and some in between. 

Consequently, since survey respondents aren’t one and the same, researchers have to be cautious of how their disparities might impact survey results. Here are some notable respondent types to look out for. 

Survey respondents to watch out
Image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay

Speedy respondents

Speedsters move too fast through a survey to provide thoughtful and honest answers. In all honesty, speedsters aren’t really motivated and only aim to complete a survey to receive their incentive. 

Fortunately, parameters around the length of time a respondent is required to spend on a question typically discourage this type of respondent. 

Flatliners

Sometimes called straighteners, such respondents can go one of two ways. Overly positive flatliners frequently select top box answers like “strongly agree”.

On the other hand, negative flatliners typically choose bottom box answers like “strongly disagree.” All in all, flatliners respondents typically have some sort of unwanted acquiescence bias that makes them respond in such a way. 

Cheaters

Cheaters are typically both real respondents and fake ones. Fake ones come in the form of software bots that gain access to online surveys to redeem the rewards. This is without any human having to take the actual survey.

On the other hand, real cheater respondents create multiple accounts to take the same study more than once. Or attempt to take the same study as many times as they possibly can.

To address this, most panels and platforms typically deploy technology parameters to identify and remove bots. Or simply check that respondents aren’t coming from the same IP address in multiple instances. 

Additionally, thoroughly reading through open ends as well as double-checking contact information can help catch cheaters that may have fluked through.

Posers

Posers are the hardest low-quality respondents to identify. Poser respondents, unfortunately, don’t give honest feedback. In some instances, they choose to follow group discussions because of social desirability bias. 

This means they don’t provide their true thoughts or feelings for fear of being different from the crowd. Or even fear of being different from what they assume the survey provider wants to hear.

Professionals

Professionals are survey respondents who are usually categorised as good. These survey takers frequently take different studies and treat them as a job. 

However, sometimes their consistent participation can at times lead to biased results. Especially if they are repeating studies on similar subjects. 

To avoid this, it is important to screen professionals by querying if they have recently taken a survey. Especially if it’s specific to the subject on which you’re conducting research. Then terminate them if they have.

Confused Rule Breakers

Such survey respondents have a difficult time following instructions. Some may intentionally break survey rules, while others could be misinterpreting questions. 

To avoid them, consider performing quality checks by using different screening questions. 

These would include questions that ensure that the respondents belong to the right category and also requires them to read the question before choosing the answer. 

Let us understand this with the following example:

Screening questions can be of two types: Behavioural and industry-specific

For the former, the questions include discussing certain behavioural aspects of the respondents (while also ensuring that they read the question and not just answer in yes/no).

exercise
Photo by kike vega on Unsplash

Say, for example, you’re selecting respondents for an exercising app and have multiple questions, some of which could look like these:

 How often do you exercise?

  • Once a week
  • Thrice a week
  • More than 45 minutes every day
  • Rarely

What is your preferred exercise type?

  • Aerobics
  • Swimming
  • Gym 
  • Yoga
  • Running/Jogging
  • None

Such questions naturally help you to eliminate the respondents who choose the answers “rarely”/ “none” as those who would not be using your app. These are, therefore, not the best-qualified respondents to provide accuracy to your surveys. 

Similarly for industry-specific screening, questions ensure that the respondents who are selected fit the requirements of understanding the niche for which the survey is conducted. 

Example: Do you work in any one of the following industries?

  • Teaching
  • Educator
  • Special needs educator
  • Academic writing
  • None of these

Now, for a website/app that’s being tested within the educational niche, the respondents choosing “none of these” are naturally not as qualified as those choosing the other options. 

Screening questions like these ensure that the chosen respondents are aware of your purpose, following the survey instructions and reading the questions before selecting the response. 

Conclusion 

In successful surveys, choosing the right respondents is critical. This is important to avoid biased opinions that could negatively influence the outcome of the research/study. The nature and accuracy of responses matter.

Remember that even when a study is well written, analysed, and executed, the outcome is only as good as its respondents.

The article is a part of our series on “How to recruit the right respondents for user research?

How to Recruit the Right Respondents for User Research?

Finding the right respondents for user research studies is no easy task. Typically, researchers have to attract interested participants, carefully vet them, then schedule a time to engage them. 

To complicate issues, at times, some respondents are not good candidates for the research as they cannot deliver meaningful feedback or insight. Unfortunately, suboptimal respondents negatively impact the quality of the study research.

What is Respondent Recruitment?

Respondent recruitment is a series of activities that focuses on recruiting the right respondents for focus groups, surveys, and in-depth interviews. 

What are the differences between participants and respondents?

In practice, participants and respondents are commonly used interchangeably, so people are referring to the same. However, if we are really particular about it, there is a slight distinction, a respondent is an individual who answers/responds to questions (either written or oral). While a participant is an individual who voluntarily joins to be part of a study as a subject.

Respondents mainly ‘respond’ to the researcher’s structured and closed-ended questions. But, on the other hand, the participants go beyond simply responding to a series of questions.

For example, a participant elaborates on the researcher’s questions. Or can even change the topic if they want to convey an idea. As a result, research participants tend to provide more qualitative data than respondents.

Tips to consider when recruiting respondents for user research 

1. Understand your audience

Your respondents should suitably represent your target group. To achieve this, it’s essential to fully understand your audience. 

So, ask yourself: Who exactly are your users? Who do you seek to target? What are the actions or traits your users have? Then, based on the data you gather, you should be able to fully achieve the objective of your user research.

2. Create target groups

Respondents have different kinds of motivations, habits, and behaviours. In some instances, you need respondents who meet a specific requirement. 

For example, individuals who make food orders on a mobile phone instead of a computer. This can provide more comprehensive insight when surveying a food delivery service.

It is imperative to define what your exact criteria for respondents are. In essence, the choice of criteria typically depends on the particular requirements of your study.

This means that it’s also important to carefully create target groups in a manner that avoids underrepresentation of your market. 

target groups
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

3. Use screeners/ screening questions

Consider using a screener (screening questions) to sieve out the right respondents. You can achieve this by writing a short questionnaire that helps to determine whether testers are suitable. 

However, take note that long questionnaires might scare away your respondents. Remember, a single question can help you determine whether you have found a suitable respondent or not. For example, questions about the occupation, age, location, or education. 

4. Don’t include colleagues/family members

Research or testing colleagues or family members isn’t the best idea as human beings aren’t 100% rational. 

Colleagues and family members are more likely to have inherent biases and can get emotional. Therefore, will typically lack the objectivity to deliver actionable insight.

5. Pay attention to how you compensate

Simply put, money matters because respondents who feel fairly compensated rarely give much trouble. They don’t get grumpy about multiple phone calls, long screeners, or not qualifying at times. So, whenever they are eligible to participate, they are more engaged and excited. 

6. The recruiting process can deliver some actionable research insights. 

The recruitment process can reveal unexpected insights that could be useful. Because of this, researchers should always be open to learning and retooling the recruiting process accordingly, to get better insights.

7. Repeat respondents can sometimes be good. 

Individuals with good experience as respondents tend to be more reliable. Additionally, they understand that the process isn’t about seeking positive points of view, rather honest opinions based on real-life experiences. 

However, whether repeating a respondent will really depend on your user research objective. 

For example, repeated respondents will not be suitable if the objective is to validate the usability of a mobile app interface for first time users, since they have already seen the mobile app user interface in the previous study. 

How do I get respondents for user research?

1. Solicit website respondents

Similar to generating email leads, sourcing respondents on your website is a good idea. Visitors to your website can be politely asked to opt into a survey if they have extra time.

This can be achieved via a landing or squeeze page because the visitor has fewer decisions to make. However, on the web homepage, visitors have hundreds of distractions such as videos, or product demos. But a landing page isolates the call to action for your survey.

2. Pre-qualification calls

If you have collected a list of prospective respondents, the subsequent step is to determine whether they meet your criteria. 

Unfortunately, some behavioural qualities aren’t easy to determine over an online form. However, speaking to these individuals on the phone always takes it a step further and reveals more.

For example, you can determine whether an individual can articulate their thoughts well. Or even quickly ask their views on a general topic like — “Is Starbucks coffee overpriced?”

3. Use a screener questionnaire

A screener questionnaire is a series of approximately 10–12 questions with different sequences of branching logic and termination points. The idea is that if, at any point during the screener call, the individual doesn’t qualify for your criteria. Then you must politely end the call.

However, specific things have to be handled while designing an effective screening questionnaire. The most critical point to remember is that you’re screening for behaviours, not demographics. Another vital point with screener questionnaires is to ensure that the recruitment criteria aren’t revealed to the potential respondent prior.

screener questionnaire
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

4. Hire a recruitment agency

One way to avoid many recruitment hassles is to simply solicit the services of a recruitment firm. Most recruitment agencies have their own lead-time to recruitment services. 

But, remember to carefully review their screening question list to avoid mistakes that could lead to the wrong respondents for your research initiative.

5. Use social media channels

You can share your survey widely across different social media platforms to find respondents. 

Social sharing gives you a lot of visibility, depending on your topic. For example, your topic might suit a LinkedIn audience, since it’s dedicated to professional networking and job seekers. 

Or your topic might fit well with a Facebook group that regularly discusses Agriculture. So, it is imperative to use your discretion to decide which platform best serves your objectives.  

6. Utilise online panel vendors

Many recruitment vendors offer an online service to acquire participants. However, in some cases, their pricing could be high. If you decide to engage any, carefully check participants’ demographics and psychographics within their databases to ensure it’s up-to-date.

7. Use dedicated panels

Relatedly, dedicated panels are fundamentally large databases of prospective research participants. Typically, for a fee, an organisation can screen and recruit the participants they need for your research. 

In some cases, dedicated online panels will deal with the logistics of paying out incentives. However, like most online panels, they often maintain many professional research participants. This can work against you if you want a variety and objective results.

So, ensure to utilise a well-crafted screener technique, and prepare to deal with participants who might not fully represent your target users.

8. In-person polling

This approach involves physically meeting your potential participants where they are. For example, if you’re looking at a specific target audience situated at particular locations, go meet them where they are. 

Especially, if you’re seeking feedback from a specific demographic less likely to respond online. For instance, demographics around a supermarket branded store or a physical location. Also, depending on participants’ qualifications, you can set up a table at a local trade fair, or conference to get respondents for your qualitative research.

9. Employ third-party channels and partners

If you have marketing partners, ask them if you can use their networks or marketing channels to contact potential survey participants. Most marketing resellers and suppliers will have access to multiple social media accounts and marketing systems with prospective participants.

How to get respondents for an online quantitative survey?

  1. Organic website traffic- depending on the nature of your study, you can host a survey invitation on your web homepage. Then allow prospective survey respondents to choose whether they qualify to take your survey.
  2. Random Device Engagement. 
  3. Use online community platforms like Reddit, Craigslist, QuestionPro Communities, etc.
  4. Share your survey on your website, social media, or blogs.
  5. Hire a dedicated Market Research agency. 
  6. Utilise your existing customers’ database since they already have first-hand experience using your platform. 
  7. Send surveys via email campaigns
community platforms
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Conclusion

The success of user research depends on its respondents. More precisely, on one’s choice of respondents. This means that finding the right participants is vital to extracting valuable results from your user research. 

Remember that participants have to be able to fairly represent your end-users. So, carefully consider the criteria you have for your research participants before commencing recruitment. For example, when your criteria are quite general — like age and location — recruiting participants is considerably easy. 

However, when you have more particular requirements for candidates to participate in your study, it can be very difficult and time-consuming. Though by balancing extreme and mainstream users, you can improve your chances of getting objective and appreciable research outcomes.