What Survey Participants Need To Know
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What Survey Participants Need To Know

View Specific Advice on Taking Online Surveys

Many people enjoy taking surveys, whether online, through traditional mail, or on the phone. We like to know our thoughts and opinions – on products, services, proposed laws, etc. – are being heard. Your participation in surveys is a way of helping improve society, since it will mean better products and services for you and your neighbors, and because companies, agencies, and government bodies will know what you want.

Your opinions are extremely important to companies and organizations as it informs their decisions on products, services and policies. To ensure a viable survey research industry, there must be a chain of trust throughout the process. That means survey companies need to make your experience rewarding and protect your privacy. As a survey participant, your name and other identifying information (address, e-mail address, phone number) are kept strictly confidential. CASRO's Code of Standards for Survey Research, which must be followed by all CASRO members as a condition of membership, requires survey research companies to protect the identities of respondents, and to insure that individuals and their responses cannot be related.

Following are some Frequently Asked Questions about survey research and answers provided by CASRO.

How is marketing and public opinion research done?

Most survey research simply involves surveys among a representative sample of individuals. Very carefully designed questionnaires, usually administered in a structured manner, are used to guide the interview. They could be about attitudes, needs or preferences. The questions could be "closed-end" types (for example "yes" or "no") or they could be "open-ended" ("what do you think of. . .?"). There are not right or wrong answers in survey research. We are only interested in the opinions of the people being questioned.

How are the interviews conducted?

Survey research is conducted via the internet, telephone and mail. In-person interviews are conducted door-to-door or in shopping centers and other high-traffic locations. Sometimes groups of respondents are invited to the research company's office or other location for a session known as a focus group.

Why do some surveys include some questions that don't sound very sensible?

In order for the answers to a research question to be usable, the questions have to be asked in exactly the same way of everybody--even though certain questions may be more interesting, or seem more relevant, to some people than to others. This sometimes causes a situation where a specific question may not seem meaningful, or is difficult to answer, to a specific person. But the answers are always important to the research company.

Who are the "research companies?"

There are well over two thousand research companies in the United States today. Most are fairly small companies of two types. One type is called data collection or "interviewing services." Their principal job is to interview people. The second type is called "full service" research companies. They do such things as designing the questionnaire to be used, tabulating the answers, analyzing what the tabulations mean and reporting the results to the study sponsor. Some "full-service" research companies also do interviewing, but many engage the services of data collection firms for some of their projects. Universities and colleges and local, state and federal governments also frequently conduct surveys.

How are names selected for a sample of research interviews?

First of all, "names" are almost never selected. E-mail addresses and telephone numbers are usually taken at random for an online or telephone survey. Street locations of houses or apartments are often systematically selected to give proper representation of the area when door-to-door interviews are to be made.

Why do interviewers ask for names or addresses or other personal information?

Interviewers often ask for what is called "demographic" information to help define the interest that the sample is likely to have in the product or service being studied. Soft drinks, for example, are more likely to be consumed by young people than by older people, so that in a survey about soft drinks, it would be important to ask the respondent for his or her age. For the same reasons, it is important to ask for such "demographics" as family income or education levels, etc. This information is never looked at by individual answers. Instead, each person's answers are combined with those of many others reported as a group to the client who requested the survey. Most research companies destroy individual questionnaires at the end of the study and names and addresses of participants are separated from the answers if additional tabulation of the results are done.

Do marketing or public opinion research companies sell anything?

No. They are interested only in summarized information on the attitudes, opinions, market practices, etc. of the sampled groups. Occasionally, survey research companies will offer a gift to the respondent in appreciation of his or her cooperation. Such a gift could be a cash donation to a charity, a product sample, or a nominal monetary award. But, sales or solicitation is not acceptable or permitted in legitimate and professionally conducted survey research. CASRO's Code of Standards states that "deceptive practices and misrepresentation, such as using research as a guise for sales or solicitation purposes, are expressly prohibited."

What do you do when a "research company" calls you on the telephone and tries to sell you something?

Such companies are not survey research companies. While selling by telephone is not against the law, pretending to be "conducting" a survey, when it is not true, is certainly unethical. Survey research companies don't do this.

Companies that use the cover of a survey for another purpose, like sales pitches or soliciting contributions, often will not say who they are until the respondent has agreed to buy something. If you think a "phony" survey is taking place, ask for the name of the research company. If the company refuses to give it, do not continue the interview. All research companies state their names at the beginning of the interview. If the company gives you a name, (1) ask if it's a research company, (2) ask if it abides by CASRO research standards, and (3) ask what is the purpose of the survey. If these questions are answered adequately in your mind, then you should proceed with the interview. If the answers are not satisfactory, please contact CASRO, your Better Business Bureau, and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

We are here to help you and answer any questions you may have. If you feel that you've been subjected to a questionable survey technique or one whose honesty you aren't sure of, let us know.

Council of American Survey Research Organizations
170 North Country Road, Suite 4
Port Jefferson, NY 11777
Phone: (631) 928-6954
E-Mail: Casro@casro.org

Advice on Taking Online Surveys

Use of the internet to conduct surveys has surged in recent years, and riding this trend are some dishonest or fraudulent research "pretenders". These "companies" make empty promises of "earning high income as a survey respondent," or worse, they may attempt to steal your money or your personal identity.

It is important to remember that the vast majority of online surveys are managed by legitimate companies and that your participation in these surveys is important – and they can also be a fun way to win prizes. The Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) offers the following guidelines to the public in an effort to help you recognize a legitimate and professional online survey and thereby avoid the potential risk to your money and your privacy from dishonest practitioners.

Legitimate Survey Research Companies Will:

- Have contact information on their website, and a representative available to answer questions/concerns

- Limit the number of surveys you can take

- Ask participants to answer screening questions to see if they meet demographic requirements needed for their research sample

- Value the time you take to complete a survey by offering modest incentives and "thank yous" such as sweepstakes entries, coupons or a nominal monetary reward. Remember, if the incentive seems too good to be true - it probably is.

- Generally affiliate themselves with a trade group. (Most associations require members to meet certain ethical standards)

- Have accessible terms and conditions and a privacy policy

- Honor your request to discontinue sending e-mail invitations for surveys or to remove you from their online research panel

Legitimate Companies Won’t:

- Request credit card or bank account information or your Social Security number

- Try to sell or promote a product

- Request payment for anything

- Try to recruit you with a one-question survey (e.g., "What’s your favorite color?") in a pop-up ad or unsolicited e-mail

- Contact or seek personal information from any child under the age of 13 without a parent’s prior, verifiable consent


Read the terms and conditions and the privacy policy: This document should explain how you're earning the free product or monetary award. You may think that you will receive prize or award by simply completing a survey, while in fact that may merely register you in a drawing to win the item. Know what is expected of you in order to earn the incentive – How long is the survey you are required to complete? Is it in several parts over a protracted period of time? Do you need to refer friends? It also may contain red flags, like the company retains the right to spam you through telemarketing and e-mail solicitations or sell your personal information to third parties.

Join a legitimate online research panel: Many CASRO members operate research panels that you can join. By doing so, you can participate in online research without having to answer e-mail or pop-up invitations from someone you don’t know and ensure that you are always dealing with a reputable research company that will honor its obligation to give you a promised incentive, will not abuse your personal information and will not try to sell you anything.

Learn about the research company: Review their website. Type the name of the company/website and the word "scam" into an internet search and see if complaints or articles turn up. You can also obtain a reliability report on the company from the Better Business Bureau.

If you are typing in personally identifiable information on a web page: Be sure it is secure by looking for the "https" designator in the URL (web address).

If you decide to cancel your membership with a site: Ask that they delete your personal information and take you off their marketing list.

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud: First, complain to the company. If that doesn’t help, you can log a complaint with any of a number of organizations, including the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, Internet Crime Complaint Center, or your state’s attorney general's office. If the company indicates membership in a trade group, contact the association.

CASRO members are required to abide by a strict Code of Standards. For a list of member companies, click here.

Once you determine that an internet survey is being conducted by a professional and legitimate research company – please participate! Your opinions are essential in the important process of market research.

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