Your besieged respondents

As researchers, we're focused on how important our survey is. From that perspective, it's easy to lose sight of how little importance the survey has to our respondents, especially these days when they're deluged with questionnaires. To illustrate what respondents are facing, here are seven real survey experiences I had—within about two weeks:

Survey # 1

Received an e-mail survey invitation from a professional association to which I belong. I wonder how they manage to send these notices so diligently, but haven't informed me of a meeting time for 6 months. Set aside for later, and it scrolls below the fold in my inbox.

Survey # 2

Work at home to minimize interruptions. When the doorbell rings, a women introduces herself as from [mumble mumble] Park, and asks if I'd be willing to complete a survey. I ask how long it will be, am told 6 questions, and after agreeing, find the "survey" rapidly sliding into a sales pitch for burial services. As I'm cutting off the saleswoman, one of the indoor cats manages to bolt out the door.

Survey # 3

As I clear my home caller ID, I notice that despite registering on the Do Not Call list, Gallup Poll feels quite comfortable calling—a lot.

Survey # 4

Out of town on a business trip, I'm clicking through a web site looking for an interesting restaurant. A window pops up saying my opinion is important, but when I click on the link they’re asking me not about that site, food, or travel, but about car purchases.

Survey # 5

Checking out of the hotel at 4:30am, I attempt to describe on the room survey why I am unhappy with the noisy, uncomfortable, "luxury" accommodations. The fact that the form only has 2 cramped lines of write-in space and is clearly designed to be scanned (likely tossing any margin notes) isn't reducing my irritation over the broken hair dryer.

Survey # 6

Checking my home e-mail, I find an offer for a free laptop if only I will complete a survey. Delete as "phishing" scam similar to bank information confirmation messages.

Survey # 7

Catching up on postal mail, I find a survey from my alma mater that somehow seems to focus more on my current income than opportunities for alumni participation. Recycle.