One of the most important decisions when beginning a market research survey is whether to conduct the research anonymously, confidentially, or neither. In anonymous surveys, data is collected without any identifying information about the participants. In confidential research, identifying information is collected but kept secret by the researchers. Anonymous and confidential research each come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. Before choosing to use one, it’s important to consider five factors.
Method of Data Collection
Surveys can be conducted through a variety of media, including telephones, face-to-face interviews, mailings, and the internet. Which of these methods you choose for data collection will have a large impact on anonymity and confidentiality. Mailings and internet surveys are excellent methods for anonymous and confidential research because the identity of the participant never needs to be revealed to the researchers. In contrast, in telephonic and face-to-face interviews, anonymity is normally impossible to maintain, since the researcher is speaking directly to the participant.
Another important factor to consider is how anonymity or confidentiality might affect your survey’s response rate. Potential participants are more likely to complete a survey when they know that their identifying information isn’t attached to it. Therefore, anonymous and confidential surveys tend to see higher response rates than non-confidential surveys. If you are concerned about your response rate, promising confidentiality or anonymity is one way to boost it.
The confidentiality and anonymity of a survey can also impact how honestly participants answer its questions. If your survey contains questions with potentially embarrassing answers, readers may be reluctant to answer truthfully if they know that their name will be attached to the results. By ensuring that you will keep their identity a secret, you can encourage participants to give frank, candid answers.
Another important consideration is how anonymity will affect your ability to offer incentives to participants. Many market research projects offer incentives such as coupons or gift certificates to encourage readers to complete questionnaires. If you conduct your research anonymously, you will not know which of the potential participants have completed the survey and which have not. This means that you will generally be unable to offer incentives for survey completion. Some internet-based surveys have been able to work around this by providing a non-tracking link at the end of a survey for participants to separately enter their contact information.
A final factor in considering anonymity and confidentiality is your ability to follow-up with participants after the initial research. Many companies are interested in hearing additional details from participants with unique or extreme survey answers. One area this is often seen is customer satisfaction surveys, in which a company may have more questions about why a participant’s experience was particularly great or terrible. Confidential and anonymous surveys prevent you from performing this type of follow-up research.
There is no universal right answer for whether market surveys should be conducted anonymously or confidentially. Instead, you must always tailor your decision to the individual research project. By considering the factors above, you can make sure that you have reached the right decision about anonymity and confidentiality for your project.