Surveys – do they really work?

Surveys are used by companies to collect market data, by the government to better understand its people, and even by students for school projects and the like. But how effective are surveys in assessing the true situation? Do they accurately reflect general opinion, and can we use survey statistics to draw trend conclusions?

I received a phone call today that requested I take part in a survey on reading habits. Unknowing of what was to come, I agreed on completing it. However, I soon discovered that I wasn’t telling the complete truth, and that I was getting a little irritated. You see, there were a few questions I didn’t want to answer and so told them I didn’t want to give them the answer. But, like any interviewer, they kept pushing and so I just made up an answer to satisfy their wants. And the survey was really long too at 20 minutes! Come to think of it, I think it would have been better for both parties had I just hung up on them instead.

The question here is: was it wrong for me to lie in the survey? Lying is principally wrong, yes, but under this circumstance, could it be excused? And following up on that, can we really trust opinion surveys when people may lie to cover up for themselves, or because they don’t wish to disclose personal information? And what if they are just trying to be polite?

Yes, I’m ranting.

Just something to think about next time you’re conducting a survey: please be considerate. I know you may desperately want some information from an interviewee, but if you try to push it out of them the information might very well be misleading and it won’t help you at all. Oh, and good luck – especially if you’re doing a phone survey. 🙂

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Author: Jessica Y

Economics student at the University of Cambridge. Aspiring data scientist.

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