Tips & Tricks

Do respondents honestly answer survey questions? - Part 1

by Betty Griffith | Tips & Tricks | 06 February, 2018
5 min read
Surveys can be an excellent way to collect information from your target group, but how accurate is the information respondent provide in surveys? Find out why or when respondents give dishonest or fake answers.

Surveyors decide to create a Survey because they want to get specific information to find out in which direction to start developing software, products, services, environments in which employees work etc., and for what purpose. It is understandable that they expect honest answers because, only by using entirely honest answers can they fulfill their goal and have satisfied users/employees. Many probably do not even think that respondents may not be completely honest at times, and may lie unintentionally, or even intentionally to manipulate the surveyors with the intent to get what they want.

But, YES, people sometimes lie in surveys!

Planning a survey - scenarios when respondents lie

There are many scenarios where respondents are dishonest or fake answers, also known as response bias. I wanted to clarify some reasons why people are lying in surveys and give you some ideas how to avoid getting dishonest or fake answers. In first (this) part, I will discuss about reasons and in the secont part, how to avoid them.

Why/when respondents give fake responses?

Scenarios when respondents are dishonest

Lack of understanding questions

When creating a survey, you were struggling with one of the questions you did not know how to shape. You wrote more versions, but each sounded somewhat clumsy. You decided to use one version that was more understandable than all others, to you. When you are creating a questions, you have to think about your target audience. You will not equally ask the question if you are addressing non-expert users in the field of your research, and those who know all the specific and scientific concepts of your niche. If the respondent does not understand the question, it is possible that they will choose a random answer only in order to come to the next question. The result is the non-transparency of the collected results. You can not identify and eliminate such results, but you can reduce the chance of obtaining such results in advance by making the question understandable, keeping in mind your target audience.

Socially sensitive issues

If you are researching more socially sensitive issues, it is very likely that you will receive irrelevant answers. Why is that so? People don’t want to talk about socially sensitive issues, especially when they are victims. If, for example, you are asking questions about violence, despite yours anonymous survey, victims of violence will rarely answer questions honestly because they are afraid of those who commit violence against them, or that a one survey can not solve their problem anyway. So, why talk about it?

Avoidance of “painful truth”

Furthermore, if you are asking sensitive questions like those about alcohol addiction, drugs and consuming them, or just some more personal issues related to someone's personality or habit, people often want to alleviate "painful truth", ie, want to show themselves "better" than they really are. They want to avoid disapproval of a surveyor despite the fact that the survey is anonymous. People do not want to talk openly about their problems just because of others opinions about them.

Surveyor needs that answer

People sometimes want to help. They may run into your survey and find out that you need their help. They decided to give their voice and give you the answers you need, not their attitude or sincere thinking, but what they think you need to hear. They hope that you will have a positive outcome and fulfill the goal you have set before making a survey, but they do not realize that by doing that, you do not get a realistic picture of set problem, but someone else's assumption of what you would need.

Respondent wants to get what he needs

Another interesting scenario, simple, but can also be mapped to other areas of interest: a few year ago you release new vacuum cleaner on the market. Selling was excellent, people are satisfied but you have some new ideas how to improve it. You decided to do a market research and you want to ask people who have buy your vacuum cleaner what they would change, or if your ideas are something that they need. When someone bought your vacuum cleaner, you certainly didn’t ask them their email address so you don’t have base of your customers. So you have to release your survey online and hope that you will reach them. Someone who did not buy your product run into you survey and want to take it, but he is not just satisfied with his vacuum cleaner from another company. First faked answer, “How are you satisfied with our product?”. Obviously he did not use your vacuum cleaner but he will give you some random answer just to get to more specific questions where he can write down what will be great for vacuum cleaner to have. People will give you responses to get what they need.

Respondents don't have time for long surveys

Lack of time

People today do not have time for anything. They always go, they always rush. Lifestyle has become much faster and more dynamic. They get your email with survey link and they wanted to take it but your survey don’t have 5 questions, but 10 and they don’t have time to complete it. They clicked some random answers or did not carefully read questions and you get irrelevant answers. Maybe if that person has had more time, their answers will be completely different.

Paid surveys - more surveys, more money

Who does not want money, more money? Or more interesting, who does not want to get money for sitting at home and doing nothing, or very little. Money from paid surveys is interesting income, but how relevant your answers will be? More surveys you take, more money you will get. Some people will rush through your survey just to get money. Their answers sometimes will be faked, but they will, however get their money.


Try to consider these scenarios when creating surveys. Only honest answers can guide you to do the right changes in your company or society. Dishonest and faked answers can, but do not have to stronly influence on your survey analysis. You can not identify and eliminate such results, but you can reduce the chance of obtaining such results in advance by making the question understandable, keeping in mind your target audience. In the second part, I will share with you what you should do to avoid getting the odd or fake answers as much as possible. 


Do respondents honestly answer survey questions? - Part 2


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Read more psychologically oriented articles about response bias:

The Honesty of Online Survey Respondents: Lessons Learned and Prescriptive Remedies - DecisionAnalyst

Response Bias in Psychology: Definition & Examples -

The Diverse Types of Response Bias Explained With Examples - PsycholoGenie

Response bias - Wikipedia