How to Avoid Survey Errors and Ensure Data Quality with Survalyzer

How to Avoid Survey Errors and Ensure Data Quality with Survalyzer

Understanding Data Quality in Survey Research

Getting good data from surveys isn’t just about asking questions; it’s about really listening to what people have to say. But it’s not always easy. We have to make sure our questions are clear and that we’re asking them in the right way. Sometimes, we run into problems like poorly designed questionnaires or not picking the right people to ask, which can mess up the answers we get.

This article prepares you to navigate common pitfalls by exploring various survey error types, offering tools for detection, and presenting straightforward prevention strategies. Specifically, it will focus in on bad response errors, making them the main focus of our discussion.

Type of Errors in Survey Research

In the traditional landscape of  market research, survey errors have long been divided into two main categories: sampling and non-sampling errors. While this classification is widely recognized and used in academic literature and research, it can present a counterintuitive framework. Recognizing this problem, we’ve developed a simpler, more intuitive classification that cuts straight to the heart of common survey challenges.

Breakdown of the most common survey errors clasification

A New Framework for Understanding Survey Errors

Focusing on where errors hurt the most, our new classification system uses two main categories to pinpoint and address them:

Participant Selection Errors

This category broadens the definition of sampling error, including issues related to how participants are chosen and their willingness to respond:

A. Non-Response Error: Highlighting the problem when selected participants choose not to engage with the survey.

B. Wrong Sampling Method: This includes not just the usual mistakes in choosing who to survey (like traditional sampling errors), but also encompasses broader issues that can skew the survey’s representativeness.

C. Coverage Error: Specifically addressing the issue of leaving out certain groups of people, highlighting the challenge of making sure the survey includes everyone it should.

Responding Errors

Focusing on errors that occur during the response process, this category reveals how participants interact with surveys:

D. Sequence Errors: occur when the order of questions affects responses due to primacy (remembering the first items more) and recency (remembering the latest items more) effects. For instance, when comparing products, opinions on the second might be swayed by details of the first seen. Mixing up question order or presenting them one by one helps counter these biases.

E. Other Measurement Errors: Captures a broad range of issues leading to data distortion, primarily due to misunderstandings around questions, answer options, or instructions. A classic example is the differing meanings assigned to school grades 1-6 in Switzerland and Germany, where the grading scales are flipped.

F. Bad Response: Focuses on instances where responses fail to accurately reflect respondent views or knowledge due to low engagement or relevance. These behaviors not only compromise data quality but also challenge the validity of our research findings. Through this new lens, we explore practical measures and ways to prevent these errors, ensuring that our surveys accurately capture the insights we want.

Identifying and Understanding Bad Response Error

There are several strategies for detecting and addressing unserious responses, ensuring the data collected is both accurate and reliable:

Trap Questions

Trap questions help us see if survey takers are just rushing or picking answers randomly. These are simple questions, like asking people to pick a specific answer on purpose. If they get it wrong, they’re probably not paying much attention.

These questions are really useful for online panels or when people get something for finishing the survey. The goal is to make sure they’re actually thinking about their answers and not just quickly clicking through to get a reward. But, it’s important to keep these questions easy and not annoying or offensive. We can breakdown trap questions into several types:

Trap question inside Survalyzer questionnaire builder
  • Instructional: A simple directive, like “Please select ‘Option 6th’,” tests if respondents are following instructions.

  • Consistency Checks: involve posing similar questions in different formats throughout the survey to ensure answers remain consistent, highlighting any lack of attention. For instance, a respondent might be asked their age at the start of the survey and then, towards the end, be asked to select their age range from a list.

  • Odd-One-Out: Questions such as “Identify the non-fruit: Apple, Carrot, Banana,” assess critical thinking and attention to detail.

  • Factual: Straightforward facts, e.g., “The sky is blue. True or False?” verify if respondents are paying attention.


Speeding occurs when participants, known as ‘speeders,’ zip through a survey too quickly, failing to properly engage with the questions or offer thoughtful responses. Having a hurried approach can lead to inconsistent or random replies, decreasing the quality of your data.

Speeders range from those uniformly quick (Uniform Speeders) to those whose attention wanes partway (Early-Exit, Selective, and Fatigued Speeders).

Identifying them involves analyzing their response patterns like Time Analysis, where response times are evaluated to pinpoint unusually quick completions, and Interactive Engagement, which involves monitoring how participants interact with survey elements to reveal any disengagement.

Reduction Strategies:

  • Limit the Number of Questions: Keep surveys concise to reduce the temptation to speed through responses.
  • Incorporate Varied Question Types: Mixing multiple-choice with open-ended questions can keep respondents engaged and discourage speeding.
  • Set Minimum Time Thresholds: Implementing a minimum time required to complete the survey can deter speeders.

Bad Open Ends

Checking open-ended answers is a good way to spot unreliable survey respondents. Usually, you’ll find clues like dodging the question with “N/A” or blank spaces, or giving short replies like “good” or “okay” to everything. This makes you question if they’re really paying attention or even if they might be a bot. Sometimes, these people go off-topic, maybe even talking about the survey instead of answering the question. Their low-effort open-ended responses can skew analysis and insights.

Reduction Strategies:

  • Response Validation: Implementing validation rules that enforce a minimum word or character count ensures that responses have sufficient detail. This not only discourages brief, unconvincing answers but also encourages respondents to engage more thoughtfully with the question.
  • Crowdsourcing: Leverage a wider audience to review and assess the quality of open-ended responses. This “wisdom of the crowd” helps identify low-effort, irrelevant, or ambiguous answers from diverse perspectives.

Straight Liners

Ever feel like someone just clicked random answers in your survey? That’s called straight-lining. It happens when respondents, feeling bored, tired, or overwhelmed, simply pick the same answer repeatedly without carefully considering each question. They might do this to finish quickly or just not care, resulting in useless data for you.

Reduction Strategies:

  • Survey Engagement: Enhancing the interactivity and overall engagement of surveys may be the right solution. This approach not only makes the survey experience more enjoyable but also helps keep respondents attentive, reducing the tendency to straight-line.
  • Thoughtful Participation: Offering incentives for detailed feedback encourages respondents to consider their answers more carefully. By rewarding quality over speed, participants become more invested in providing valuable input.
  • Avoid Grid or Matrix Questions:Use these questions with caution. They can trick respondents into rushing through, making the survey seem easier than it really is. Consider alternative question types to avoid straight-lining.

Interview Quality Control in Survalyzer

Survalyzer enhances survey reliability with its AI Interview Quality Control feature, designed to sift through responses and pinpoint those of questionable quality. This system has different parts that work together to see if answers are reliable. For an in-depth exploration, check out our detailed guide inside our education center.

Quality Indicators

Survalyzer identifies interviews of questionable quality using four main indicators:

  • Trap Condition: Evaluates whether respondents fall for trap questions, which have only one correct answer, to gauge attentiveness.
  • Speeder: Assesses if a response was completed in significantly less time than the median, indicating haste over accuracy.
  • Straight Liner: Checks for repetitive answer patterns in matrix questions, which suggest lack of engagement.
  • Bad Open End: Analyzes open-ended responses for depth and relevance, with AI tools examining language use and coherence.
Interview quality control feature in Survalyzer's questionnaire builder

Quality Control Rules

To categorize an interview as of “Bad Quality,” Survalyzer applies four rules, integrating the indicators:

  • Speeder Rule: An interview scoring 100% on the speeder indicator is immediately flagged as of bad quality.
  • 1-out-of-2 Rule: Flags an interview as bad quality if it scores 100% on two out of the four indicators.
  • 240% Rule: An interview is considered of bad quality if the combined score of all indicators reaches or exceeds 240%, even if no single indicator scores 100%.
  • Double Trap Rule: Triggered when an interview falls into two or more trap conditions, marking it as bad quality.


Throughout this exploration, we’ve equipped you with tools and strategies to navigate common pitfalls, from identifying sneaky “speeders” to weeding out low-effort responses. Remember, even small improvements in data quality can have a seismic impact on your research outcomes. Putting these practices into action will solidify your research base, allowing you to make well-informed decisions based on solid, reliable data.

If you would like to try out our Interview Quality Control it’s available in Survalyzer Professional Analytics, remember that you can always reach out to our sales team and thank we can tailor your plan according to your needs.

Christian Hyka

Managing Partner

Ready to Elevate Your Survey Data Quality?

Boost the reliability of your survey data with Survalyzer’s innovative AI Quality Control. Say goodbye to unreliable responses and hello to data you can trust. Take the first step towards better research and book a demo.

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