World’s Worst Questionnaire Design
By Ron Sellers
Sometimes I weep for this industry.
I just completed a survey (as a respondent). I honestly have no idea how the client is going to get any valid data from the mish-mash of garbage I just had to wade through in order to complete the study.
To start, once I was already in the questionnaire, I was told (for the first time) to have my children with me when I answer the questionnaire. Because, of course, all respondents answer questionnaires at a time when all of their kids are readily available. Americans do nothing all day but sit around with their families, gazing longingly at their computer screens, hoping for a questionnaire to arrive that they can all answer as a good old-fashioned family get-together.
Not only was my daughter unavailable, but I input how old my daughter is, and they proceeded to categorize her in the wrong age group. I plowed ahead alone, my curiosity piqued.
I was asked how often I grocery shop. I am not the main shopper for my household, but my only options were more than once a week, weekly, or 2 – 3 times a month. They gave me no choice but to put in wrong information, which I did in order to move ahead.
They asked me what types of things I collect and gave me a list of possibilities. I collect none of them, but that wasn’t an option. I hit the “next” button without selecting any, and was told I had to answer the question in order to move on. Apparently, they decided that every adult must collect at least one of the options, so I chose something at random, clicked the button to register the lie, and plunged ahead.
I was then asked what characters I collect. This time, there was an “other” option, so I clicked that and typed in “none.” The next task, of course, was for me to rank order the importance of the characters I collect. Not only did I get to rank order “none,” but I got to decide whether that option should place first, first, first, or first. Really? You can’t program a skip pattern when the respondent only provides one option?
Then I was asked about my awareness of a number of different characters that might be used as a promotional tie-in. I gladly told them which ones I had heard of, which I liked, etc. One of them – let’s make up a name and call it “Shiny Monsters” – I said I did not know. Which is why I was then asked whether I would collect about ten different things emblazoned with the Shiny Monsters logo and characters.
I was also asked – and I quote – “What other characters, movies, or brands do you like?” Huh? Okay, I like Inspector Clouseau (character), Dr. Strangelove (movie), and Lexus (brand). And that will help you how with this study about promotional tie-ins?
Next, I was supposed to gather all my children around me and repeat this whole useless and confusing exercise. Since my one daughter didn’t fit the age group anyway, I just filled out the questionnaire without her (I know which characters she likes and dislikes). But I was amazed that all of the questions asked about my children. Let’s say I have three kids, and my five-year-old loves Shiny Monsters, my eight-year-old thinks they’re dumb, and my eleven-year-old has never heard of them. How, exactly, should I answer all of these questions?
Finally, after answering repeatedly that I have no interest in promotional tie-ins as a way to choose which store I shop in (particularly since I don’t really do the shopping), I got a series of questions asking me whether I would switch stores in order to collect about ten different promotional products – including those with characters I had already answered that I have never heard of or do not like.
The research firm that was behind this primarily programs and hosts studies, so it was not clear whether some other research firm designed this mess, or whether the end client did. Either way it’s a disaster. If a research firm was behind this, it royally ticks me off that good research companies out there lose business to these charlatans. If this was done by the end client, I cannot think of a better (or worse?) indictment of DIY research.
No matter who is to blame, what will result from this “research” project is data full of lies, bogus answers, and useless information. I was forced to make up stuff in order to move on, and I will guarantee I am not the only one who did that.
Where is the quality control? Where is the senior researcher who is mentoring the inexperienced ones and teaching them the very basics of questionnaire design? (At least I’m hoping this thing was designed by someone inexperienced.) Where is even a shred of the thought or logic that should have gone into this questionnaire?
As a respondent, I felt this was a frustrating abuse of my time. As a researcher, I felt this was a frustrating abuse of our industry. There is enough of this nonsense going on in research that it’s time we stand up and call out the worst offenders, and use them as examples of what not to do. Because it’s hurting the end users of the research, and it’s hurting the professionals who actually know and care what they’re doing.