Saturday, March 27, 2010

Surveying the Surveys

Occasionally I enjoy taking online surveys. I don't consider them terribly significant--by their very nature, they are not scientific, although I'm not sure that's all that important when it comes to product or lifestyle questions--but some of them can be interesting enough, and most of them feature some kind of point-earning scheme or enter you into a drawing that you'll never win, which makes it fun. Sort of. Beats playing solitaire, mostly.

But having written more than a few surveys in my time, I'm often amazed at the poor writing, illogical questions, and just plain sloppiness that often makes it through to the respondent. I can only conclude that the proofreading department at some of these research companies has been downsized out of existence. And that they don't have a handful of volunteers take the survey before they unleash it on the public.

I've written of this before (Survey says huhn??,), when a survey dated 10/8/08 asked me if I felt "the new president's administration is doing enough to fight unemployment?" Note that 10/8/10 was nearly a full month before the 2008 election (11/4/08) and more than three months before the inauguration. There was no "new president" in October 2008!

I pointed that out to Harris Interactive, and never received a reply.

Which is why I won't bother to share these survey oddities with the various companies that perpetrated them. But I will share them with you!

This snippet is from a longish "lifestyle" survey that I took a few weeks back:

The problem is one of consistency. The only "abstinence" answer option given is "I do not smoke," but three of the five products it asks about are "smokeless" products. Since the question is about "tobacco products" and not smoking, a more properly worded option would have been "I do not use tobacco products."

This snippet is from a customer-satisfaction survey following my recent stay at a Day's Inn:

The problem here is dumbness. Sorry, but I have grown weary of supposedly professionally produced publications, signs, and, yes, surveys whose creators can't be bothered to educate themselves about the difference between it's (a contraction, usually for it is and occasionally for it has) and its (a possessive pronoun indicating belonging, as in Every dog must have its day). I used to be more patient about such things, but this is so widespread, and so wrong, and so easy to figure out, that I can no longer do but immediately relegate the perpetrator of such dumbness to the Chowderhead file and move on.

And finally this, from the same customer-satisfaction survey:

As you see, I did not complete this portion correctly. I foolishly assumed that since I indicated that I had paid my tab with American dollars it was unnecessary to indicate also that I did not pay it with Canadian dollars! What was I thinking?

Seriously, does it make any sense at all for me to have to tell them that my room cost me $90.00 US and $0.00 Canadian? Which, after all, turned out to be the "correct" way to complete that section. Is there any instance in which my stay would have cost me, say, $45.00 American and $46.33 Canadian? Had I completed the section in such a fashion, would anybody on the other end even have noticed?

Given the survey crafters' issues with its and it's, I would assume not.

Good advice in putting together instruments such as surveys (indeed, good advice for any piece of instructional writing): Give it to someone else, someone out of the loop but whose opinion (and, more important, intelligence) you value. If they turn up puzzled, go back to the drawing board. Repeat as necessary.

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