Survey Response Bias
User Research

Published on April 19, 2022

Survey Response Bias

Surveys are an excellent research tool. However, as a UX researcher, you want to make sure your survey results are reliable and lack bias. Read along this article to learn how to do that!

The response bias that needs to be addressed in survey replies can have a significant influence on your research. We have put together some important points to help you deal with survey response bias and minimize its impact on your research.

What is Survey Response Bias?

According to Wikipedia Response bias is a broad phrase that refers to a variety of tendencies among participants to answer questions incorrectly or inaccurately. In research involving participant self-report, such as organized interviews or surveys, these biases are common. Response biases can have a significant impact on the validity of surveys and questionnaires.

This may happen because of the faults from your end (the creator of the questionnaire) such as:

  • The phrasing of the questions
  • Survey format or design
  • The behavior of the researcher

However, unintentional bias responses also occur. It is critical for researchers to be aware of response bias and the impact it can have on their research in order to try to avoid it having a negative impact on their findings.

survey response bias

Source: Unsplash

Types of survey response bias

According to the Nielsen Norman Group users’ answers to survey questions are often biased and do not represent the literal truth. Survey response biases can be grouped in four main types:

Acquiescence Bias

This bias comes from the sort of questionnaire used, which asks for agreement or disagreement responses. 

Respondents in your survey will typically prefer to agree to a question when given the option to agree or disagree as they go through the questionnaire, resulting in slightly biased results. This happens because the respondent may not want to make the researcher unhappy.

The social desirability bias

This arises from our desire to project our best selves and be perceived in our ideal image. We underreport negatively viewed social behaviors and overreport positively preferred social behaviors due to this bias. 

This frequently occurs when respondents are filling out a survey form that includes questions about sensitive topics such as drugs, pornography, or mental health. Because these are topics that aren’t freely discussed in public, anyone who is participating in any of these behaviors will be unable to respond correctly to the questions. They may end up selecting socially acceptable responses that make them appear to be conforming to cultural norms.

Pro tip: You can use conflicting questions as follow-ups to verify the legitimacy of their responses, or make the survey anonymous to encourage them to try honesty.

Recency bias 

This is a phenomenon that occurs when something happens recently. Human memory is faulty, and this has an impact on the responses of their respondents as they give their most recent experience more weight than their total experience. Respondents are more inclined to answer a question like “How pleased are you with this product?” based on the product’s most recent performance rather than the overall experience.

Extreme and Neutral Responses Bias

This is one of the most common types of survey response bias, and it often represents the participant’s lack of interest while doing the survey. What causes this to happen? Your questionnaire does not allow them to select a more appropriate and proper response based on their prior experience and knowledge.

Despite this, it provides them with two extremes of positive and negative, prompting them to choose one alternative based on an emotional trigger to a specific subject. Alternatively, if the survey appears to be dull to the respondent, he may want to select all neutral responses in order to complete the survey as quickly as possible.

How survey response bias affects UX research

You are aware of the importance of doing surveys as a UX researcher. Surveys are a quick, simple, and inexpensive way to communicate with your target audience and involve them in the evaluation of your product. Based on their comments, you may determine whether or not  the products meet the users’ expectations. 

However, due to survey response bias, the results may lead you in the wrong direction. As a result, all of your business goals and plans will be affected, and you may find yourself unable to meet your customers’ expectations.

survey response bias

Source: Unsplash

How to avoid survey response bias in UX research?

Choose the right respondents

Instead of limiting yourself to the most convenient respondents who may all have somewhat similar experiences and opinions, expand your sample size to encompass a wider demographic to survey. A larger audience helps to represent different viewpoints and avoid bias in your results. To ensure you have the right respondents for your survey here are tips for recruiting the best respondents for your research.

Stick to non biased questions

Avoid asking leading questions that could lead to a biased response. For example, do you believe people should not buy Macbooks because they overheat? Because this question previously mentions Macbooks tend to overheat, it has an impact on the respondents’ responses.

Avoid no response 

When you ask a particular number of individuals to fill out a survey and a certain number of people do not respond, it signifies that a certain point of view is not represented. As a researcher, you can’t presume what non-respondents would say, therefore your findings may be skewed. To prevent this, there are several things you can do to motivate people to participate in your research.

Keep your survey brief

Try to keep your survey questions brief and easy to understand. Don’t exaggerate as if the respondent may get confused or lose interest.

Provide respondents with a range of choices

Make sure your multiple-choice survey questions have enough options for your respondents to choose from. Consider adding ‘don’t know’ as an option for the users to encourage them to answer truthfully instead of making wrong choices due to lack of information. 

Avoid Emotionally Charged Terms

Don’t use any words that will trigger an  emotionally biased response rather than a thought based response.  You want answers that are thought through, and using words such as politician, terrorist, junkie instead elicit an emotional response that is not as valuable for your research.

Prepare good questions

When conducting a survey, it’s better to start with general questions and progress to specific questions as the goal approaches. Avoid using simple YES or NO type questions as they are not engaging and encourage respondents to respond without fully thinking through the question. Learn how to write good questions for usability testing.

Don’t let the bias scare you

Because all users have prejudices that you may not be aware of, it may be hard to remove all bias from your survey. As a UX researcher, you should be aware of these biases in order to find strategies to mitigate them while selecting a research method and designing your research questions. 

To get the most of your survey here is a definitive guide to creating an effective survey. Once you have conducted your survey is how you can analyze your data. At UXtweak we provide you with the right UX research tool to do all this and so much more. Get started conducting successful surveys and getting the best results, Sign up now.

Salome Katunzi
April 19, 2022
All author's articles

Salome is a driven UI/UX designer who enjoys empathizing with users in order to identify problems and come up with innovative solutions. She also likes writing educational content about UX and visual design.

Try our Free plan

It's free for small projects.

Bee
User
testing &
surveys
Card
sorting
Session
recording
Tree
testing

You might be interested in