7 easy ways to get honest answers on a survey

Blocksurvey blog author
May 9, 2023 · 5 mins read

I can understand how upset a researcher or data collector might become when he/she does not get honest and unbiased responses from their survey. Sometimes their sincere efforts to gather honest research data may go waste. The reliability of the gathered data gets defeated.

This is a harsh reality that data collectors and researchers have to live with. At the same time, they must also make thoughtful efforts to design their survey in a way conducive to receiving honest responses. With this, they can make the most out of their data collection and research efforts.

Why do people lie on surveys?

Many reasons make people lie on a survey. Let us delve into a few reasons people lie on a survey.

  • Simply respondents don't truly want to answer sensitive questions that reveal their ideologies. For example, questions on race, sexuality, or abortion are usually considered sensitive, and respondents are mostly defensive while answering such sensitive questions.
  • Few respondents wanted to increase their self-worth. This makes them lie to certain questions like the car they own, the salary they receive, or their job title. People say they exercise daily and give to charity even if they do not. Thus few people tend to give socially desirable answers, although, in reality, it is not true.
  • Some respondents want to give the answer they believe will “help” or “please” the researcher. These people want to help the researcher or data collector. And so they make up responses based on their belief about what researchers need. This effort to help the researcher actually ends up doing them harm instead.
  • Finally, some respondents may not care about the survey and provide whatever answers seem most convenient.

It is important to be mindful of these potential reasons when designing surveys to ensure that the data collected is accurate and reliable.

Seven easy ways for honest answers.

Having discussed the reason behind fake responses, I will now discuss the following seven strategies to get honest answers on your survey.

  1. Tell the purpose to respondents.
  2. Choose Behavior questions over Attitude questions.
  3. Ask about others, not about respondents.
  4. Reach out to respondents quickly.
  5. Block fraudulent completions.
  6. Do not punish respondents.
  7. Conduct anonymous data collection.

Tell the purpose to respondents.

Let your respondents know the reason for the data collection. For example, if you are receiving feedback from employees, then let the employees know the purpose behind data collection, which is to improve employee satisfaction in the organization.

Below are a few benefits of this approach.

  • It helps respondents understand the relevance of the data they are providing.
  • It also allows them to determine if the collected data is used ethically and responsibly.
  • It helps to reaffirm the respondents’ privacy and security are respected.
  • Respondents are more likely to provide information that is accurate and up-to-date.

Choose Behavior questions over Attitude questions.

Behavior questions ask respondents about specific actions. These questions are more concrete and often lead to more accurate responses. Attitude questions, on the other hand, ask respondents to express their feelings or beliefs. They often lead to more biased responses.

Choosing behavior questions over attitude questions is often the best approach. Consider the following two questions.

  • How often do you smoke?
  • Do you think smoking is good?

For example, people tend to answer the behavior question "How often do you smoke?" more truthfully than the attitudinal question "Do you think smoking is good?".

We should thus ask behavioral questions rather than attitudinal ones to receive honest answers from your survey.

Ask about others, not about respondents.

In your survey, avoid asking questions directly about the respondents. But instead, ask about their observation of the behaviors of other people.

  • Asking questions about other people allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject to be obtained.
  • Asking questions about the respondents themselves can limit the scope of the survey and the information collected.

Thus by not putting themself into the answering situation, respondents tend to provide unbiased answers. This psychological strategy will help respondents respond more honestly to the survey.

Reach out to respondents quickly.

Not all people necessarily lie in a survey, for they do not remember things to provide an honest answer.

For example, if you want to receive feedback about a recent shopping experience from your customer, reach out to them quickly, even before they forget about the shopping experience.

To ensure that respondents are reached out to quickly, remember the below.

  • Have a clear timeline of when to reach out to respondents.
  • Ensure that all contact information is up-to-date.

Block fraudulent completions.

Technical care should be taken to weed out fake responses and ensure that only genuine responses are accepted.

  • Sometimes a bot will be filling out your surveys to claim rewards illegally. You can use identity validation by asking for a valid email address to stop such fraudulent activities.
  • You can enable anti-bot testing by implementing CAPTCHA to verify the response. This will cease the fraudulent activity aimed at providing random answers and fooling you.

By utilizing these methods, data collectors & researchers can protect their surveys and ensure that the responses they receive are genuine.

Do not punish respondents.

Punishing respondents for providing honest answers can discourage respondents from being honest and can cause them to provide false or incomplete information.

  • It is important to ensure that respondents feel comfortable providing honest answers.
  • It is important to create an atmosphere of trust and openness.

For example, employees get punished for providing honest answers in feedback surveys. Employees don't know if they can trust the organization. There are cases where employees are fired from the company for giving honest responses. Such a company culture proves detrimental to the employee's career.

Therefore, in a survey, it is important to watch out for conducive culture that welcomes honest answers from the respondent.

Conduct anonymous data collection.

People tend to answer more honestly if their true identity is not revealed to the external world.

To implement anonymity, you can avoid asking for the following information in your surveys & forms.

  • Names
  • Email addresses
  • Contact Information
  • Other identifiable data

You can also use an end-to-end encrypted platform like BlockSurvey for complete anonymity.

Final Thoughts

Overall, getting honest answers on a survey requires a combination of keeping respondents informed, blocking fraudulent completions, a culture that supports honest answers, and more. It is also important to ensure that the survey is easy to understand and that participants are comfortable and willing to provide honest responses. Additionally, data collectors must be watchful of all potential biases that may influence the results and take steps to minimize such influences.

Using the discussed strategies, data collectors or researchers can increase the likelihood of obtaining honest and accurate data. Now, you can try implementing all these potential ideas to receive honest answers to your survey.

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blog author description

Sarath Shyamson

Sarath Shyamson is the customer success person at BlockSurvey and also heads the outreach. He enjoys volunteering for the church choir.


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