7 Strategies to Shrink Satisficing & Improve Survey Results

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Posted by John Kleeman

My previous post Satisficing: Why it might as well be a four-letter word explained that satisficing on a survey is when someone answers survey questions adequately but not as well as they can. Typically they just fill in questions without thinking too hard. As a commenter on the blog said: “Interesting! I have been guilty of this, didn’t even know it had a name!”

Examples of satisficing behavior are skipping questions or picking the first answer that makes some kind of sense. Satisficing is very common.  As explained in the previous blog, some reasons for it are participants not being motivated to answer well, not having the ability to answer well, them finding the survey too hard or them simply becoming fatigued at too long a survey.

Satisficing is a significant cause of survey error, so here are 7 strategies for a survey author to reduce satisficing:

1. Keep surveys short. Even the keenest survey respondent will get tired in a long survey and most of your respondents will probably not be keen. To get better results, make the survey as short as you possibly can.Bubble-Sheet---Printing-and-Scanning_2

2. Keep questions short and simple. A long and complex question is much more likely to get a poor quality answer.  You should deconstruct complex questions into shorter ones. Also don’t ask about events that are difficult to remember. People’s memory of the past and of the time things happened is surprisingly fragile, and if you ask someone about events weeks or months ago, many will not recall well.

3. Avoid agree/disagree questions. Satisficing participants will most likely just agree with whatever statement you present. For more on the weaknesses of these kind of questions, see my blog on the SAP community network: Strongly Disagree? Should you use Agree/Disagree in survey questions?

4. Similarly remove don’t know options. If someone is trying to answer as quickly as possible, answering that they don’t know is easy for them to do, and avoids thinking about the questions.

5. Communicate the benefit of the survey to make participants want to answer well. You are doing the survey for a good reason.  Make participants believe the survey will have positive benefits for them or their organization. Also make sure each question’s results are actionable. If the participant doesn’t feel that spending the time to give you a good answer is going to help you take some useful action, why should they bother?

6. Find ways to encourage participants to think as they answer. For example, include a request to ask participants to carefully deliberate – it could remind them to pay attention. It can also be helpful to occasionally ask participants to justify their answers – perhaps adding a text comment box after the question explaining why they answered that way. Adding comment boxes is very easy to do in Questionmark software.

7. Put the most important questions early on. Some people will satisfice and they are more likely to do it later on in the survey. If you put the questions that matter most early on, you are more likely to get good results from them.

There is a lot you can do to reduce satisficing and encourage people to give their best answers. I hope these strategies help you shrink the amount of satisficing your survey participants do, and in turn give you more accurate results.

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