Response errors

People may give an inaccurate response either intentionally or unintentionally simply because they are being interviewed. For example, respondents may deliberately not report their duly considered answer because they want to help or please the researcher. This is often encountered in new product tests. In another instance, even though the respondent intends to respond accurately, response error arises because of faulty memory, fatigue, question format or even question content. It also arises when people have little or no experience with the survey topic, for example, asking a low-income respondent about comparatively expensive goods.

Interviewers can influence respondents' answers, incorrectly record respondents' answers and even falsify respondents' answers. People may also be influenced by their attitude to the organisation conducting the study. Last, the wish to give socially acceptable answers to sensitive or potentially embarrassing questions can also lead to response errors.

A variety of factors can cause errors in survey results. The onus is on the researcher to:

• determine whether respondents have enough information about the topic on which to base their opinions

• word and/or pose the questions carefully

• avoid biases in wording that suggest a socially desirable answer or lead respondents to agree with one side of an issue

• pretest questions in pilot studies to ensure their clarity and impartiality

• train interviewers to avoid influencing respondents' answers.

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