The Nine Circles Of Survey Research Hell

 

When Dante Alighieri was composing the Inferno section of his epic poem, the Divine Comedy, he was surely thinking of online survey content and execution. Okay, maybe he was thinking of something else. Nonetheless, Dante’s visionary landscape of falling into a place where everything around you burns to ruin can apply to various situations. It certainly applies to how shoddy survey research can incinerate your market research.

Let’s keep it heavenly then, by avoiding these survey circle hells.

 

First Circle (Limbo)

 

 

This place (or state of being) is not that bad. It’s full of nice gardens where pagans like Plato, Virgil and Julius Caesar hang out. They never had a chance to convert to Dante’s religion, but get a pass for being notable and thus hang out in blandness for eternity.

Here on earth, that’s the problem when it comes to market research. Nothing happens. You’ve released a survey, and it’s as quiet as a Nickelback internet fan site. Response rates are low. Why is this happening?

How to get out of this hell: There are many explanations, as you will see, found by plunging deeper into the rest of the survey circle hells.

 

Second Circle (Lust)

 

 

In Dante’s poem, the condemned here float continually by the fury of strong winds. It’s an allegory of what happens when one lacks emotional control. Helen of Troy is imprisoned here, and surely Bill Clinton and Don Draper will join her in time.

For researchers: You’ve allowed your passion for the project to pollute the survey. You have a bias, and it’s often unconscious. As one researcher wrote:

One of the leading causes of misleading survey data is researcher bias that comes directly from the survey writer. This bias is sneaky. It’s caused by survey creators who innocently influence the results to reach an outcome they hope or expect to reach. It’s sneaky because survey creators are typically unaware it’s happening.

How to get out of this hell: Allow others to edit the questionnaire; keep questions concise and neutral; offer opt-out questions so other souls don’t drink (and later spew) your Kool-Aid.

 

Third Circle (Gluttony)

 

 

Here the three-headed mutt, Cerberus, makes sure that all gluttons linger in frozen, dirty slush (people in Chicago can relate when commuting in the wintertime).

For researchers: You’ve overstuffed your questionnaire. As our research reveals, respondent fatigue sets in at approximately 20 minutes of a survey. Respondent fatigue may result in respondents exerting less effort and spending less time thinking about their answers.

How to get out of this hell: Keep questionnaires as short as possible; keep your vocabulary simple or at least at the level of your audience; place important questions at the beginning.

 

Fourth Circle (Greed)

 

 

Greedy and hoarders end up stranded in this dimension, forever carrying bags of money they can never enjoy, under the control of Pluto (the Roman god of death, not Mickey’s dog).

For researchers: You’re pressured by a budget and end up skimping on respondent incentives. Bad move.

As we’ve reported, incentives have these benefits:

–  Response rates that are 10-15% higher
–  Improved response rates from hard-to-reach groups
–  Increase efficiency, especially when it comes to non-response follow-ups

How to get out of this hell: Reward your survey participants, bro. With online surveys flooding the market these days, it might not be an option—unless you want to carry around bags of non-filled surveys for Pluto.

 

Fifth Circle (Anger)

 

 

For some reason, Dante envisioned this place being the River Styx with the condemned floating on or under its icy waters. We do find a city called Dis that is about as attractive as Gary, Indiana.

For researchers: You won’t let anyone edit your survey, or you place too many trap questions (which we revealed can harm survey data—by shifting the thinking of respondents to critical thinking from “optimal thinking,” the state of mind they reason as they normally would in daily life). No one better get in the way of your research project, or it’s Khan wrath, baby!

How to get out of this hell: Place fewer trap questions and make sure there is a second or third set of eyes on your questionnaire. Yes, these circles overlap like an infernal slinky.

 

Sixth Circle (Heresy)

 

 

Welcome to an eternal landscape of flaming tombs. You should avoid this place at any cost unless you’re doing a heavy metal video.

For researchers: What is worse a heresy in market research than not checking your data? As examples, you don’t notice that some respondents are finishing surveys in less than 30%-50% of the median time; that others are marking the same line in each question; or that some are even leaving a Christmas Tree pattern in the survey (it does happen!).

How to get out of this hell: Double-check, my friend, like we keep saying, and don’t go at it alone.

 

Seventh Circle (Violence)

 

 

Witness a place where all violent thugs spend time beating each other up, under the governance of a Minotaur, harpies and whatever monster Dante must have found in his ancient copy of World of Warcraft. It’s a cosmic Fight Club!

For researchers:  Your survey research may not be threatening you, but a lack of empathy can be just as perilous. As qSample’s president Rudly Raphael stated:

Companies need to have more empathy for the research participant. The person(s) who writes the survey instrument should ask themselves if they could sit through that survey for 25-30 minutes. Companies should make surveys fun and engaging, regardless of the topic. They should test their surveys over and over again to identify the fatigue points in the survey. This is usually the area where data integrity is compromised.

How to get out of this hell: Did you not hear Rudly through the din of the harpies? Cultivate empathy. Picture yourself taking the survey, perhaps on a smartphone waiting for a bus in the rain. Picture the vocabulary of your audience as well as their habits.

 

Eighth Circle (Fraud)

 

 

Some monster called Geryon goes around in this place harassing all manner of fraudsters. We’re sure that this includes the founders of the startup you invested in back in 2012.

For researchers: It’s still surprising that so many researchers don’t communicate to participants the length of the questionnaire or clearly explain the purpose of the survey. They avoid placing progress bars or timers. They don’t engage the respondents after the survey. It may not be a scam, but it certainly makes survey participants provide lesser data quality.

How to get out of this hell: Like the figures who guided Dante in Inferno, take a journey with your respondents. That in itself lets them know that they’re actually heading to a paradise.

 

Ninth Circle (Treachery)

 

 

This level is the sucky-suck of all places. It’s hot, and you’ve got the company of such fiends as Cain, Mordred, and Judas. Need we say more? Should we include Carrot Top to seal the deal?

For researchers: We don’t have to say anything else, really, pointing to the vibe of the Seventh and Eighth Circle. Your survey ultimately represents your brand or client. You are truly your respondent’s keeper. Anything but utmost professionalism can go beyond compromising survey data and response rates. It may hinder future surveys.

How to get out of this hell: If you’re this low, ignored all the advice from the other circles, then may it’s time switch to selling insurance or swindling people by founding a startup. There is little hope.

 

Conclusion

 

 

At the end of Inferno, Dante crawls through the center of the earth and enters Purgatory. If you avoid these circles in your survey research projects, you won’t have to worry about any purgation. You’ll be already rising through heavens of quality data.

 

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