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3 techniques to make your online surveys more reliable

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An online survey is often an essential part of any market research. However, doing a survey well is not easy. Many mistakes can be made that can affect the validity of your results. In this article, we present 3 techniques to ensure that the survey participants reliably answer your questions.

If you only have 30 seconds

  • The quality of a survey depends on the attention respondents give to it.
  • Attention tends to decrease with the length of the questionnaire (remember not to exceed 10 minutes!)
  • To make sure that survey participants don’t answer nonsense, you can check their level of attention with one of these 3 techniques: the attention question, the repetition of a question, the inversion of the scale

The problem of attention in online surveys

You might think that doing a survey is easy. There are plenty of online solutions to launch one in 5 minutes and broadcast it on networks. However, there are many pitfalls99% of surveys undertaken by amateurs fail to deliver reliable results because errors mar them.

To ensure the reliability of the results obtained, it is essential to do everything possible to ensure that respondents remain attentive when answering. The following 3 techniques are necessary if you want your quantitative survey to deliver reliable results.

online survey respondent

Technique #1: the question of attention

Questionnaires often lead to fatigue. A lack of motivation of the respondents leads them to answer anything, especially when the questionnaire is too lengthy. The results become unusable without you realizing it.

A simple way to check that the participant’s answers are still valid is to ask an attention question.

Here are different wordings you can use.

Examples of attention-getting questions in an online survey
1 “This is an attention question. Select the answer “strongly agree” and then confirm.”
2 “To verify your attention, we request that you select the number 3 from the list”
3 What year are we in?
4 What language is this questionnaire in?
5 What is the sum of 2+3?
6 Complete the following statement. “The earth is …” round – cubic – flat


  • Avoid having people choose the answer in the middle of the scale. This is the one that tends to be selected by those who are not paying attention.
  • Be careful not to ask general knowledge or ideological questions. The question should be so simple that 100% of people will answer correctly.

Technique #2: Repeat the question

Sometimes some questions are so crucial to your market research that they are worth repeating.

Always ask the most important questions at the beginning of the questionnaire when the respondent’s attention is at its highest. Repeat the most important question at the end of the questionnaire to check the consistency of the answers.

If the answers are different between the beginning and the end of the questionnaire, the responses to the entire questionnaire cannot be used for your analysis.

Technique #3: Reverse the scale

The last technique is scale reversal. This technique is helpful to trap respondents who constantly check the same box in the survey. By inverting the scale, you can see right away if they are paying attention or not.

Question Normal scale Inverted scale
“How do you position yourself concerning the statement ……?” strongly agree – agree – neither agree nor disagree – disagree – strongly disagree strongly disagree – disagree – neither agree nor disagree – agree – strongly agree
Rate your satisfaction with … 0 (completely dissatisfied) – 10 (completely satisfied) 10 (completely satisfied) – 0 (completely dissatisfied)


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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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