Is survey a bad word?


Share on LinkedIn

A recent question on the Market Research Bulletin, a LinkedIn discussion group, prompted a lengthy and heated discussion about the word “survey” and the negative connotations associated with this word. It all started with the following statement and question, “the word ‘survey’ is outdated and has a negative connotation associated with long-boring questionnaires. Can we re-invent another word or phrase that is more sexy and engaging to respondents?”

In order to respond, let’s break this inquiry down into its components …

First of all, the word ‘survey’ is in common use in a variety of industries and is most certainly not outdated. As a noun, a survey is a study, a detailed critical inspection that typically involves measurements and observations. As a verb, to survey, is to inspect, examine, observe, evaluate, typically from multiple viewpoints or angles. None of the dictionaries I consulted made any reference to questionnaire and none gave any indication that this was a word to be excluded from courteous conversation.

It may be true that consumers have come to associate the word survey with long, boring questionnaires. Yet, this is but one of the many ways consumers have been abused and deceived using the word survey. Unscrupulous telemarketers have been known to impersonate genuine researchers, to open conversations pretending they are conducting a survey of consumer opinion only to turn the conversation into a hard sell. It’s called MUGGing (masquerading under the guise of gathering information) and it’s a genuine breach of consumer trust.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA), the dominate professional organization for marketing researchers in Canada, expressly forbids its members to engage in such behaviours and is actively lobbying our Federal Government to have the practice of MUGGing outlawed.

Another way that we have breached consumer trust is by providing misleading information about the length of time that will be required to participate in the survey by answering questions. Researchers have been known barge into peoples’ lives, usually in the evening, and attempt to steal their time by claiming the interview will take only a few minutes. A few minutes which extends into 20 minutes or even longer!

We must cease this deception! Everyone has the right to be treated with consideration and respect; at the outset of the call, they must be told truthfully how much of their time will be needed, and given the option of scheduling the interview at a time that is convenient to them. Not only is this respectful and considerate, it increases the likelihood of gathering higher quality insights rather than those we capture from hurried and resentful respondents.

And, why are we tormenting people by questionning them for more than 15 minutes? Unless your questionnaire is highly engaging, even with an appointment to conduct the interview, you are unlikely to sustain the attention of the respondent for much longer. No wonder so many people have made personal pledges never to participate in another survey!

Searching for a word or phrase that is more engaging or sexy will not improve the situation if we continue to hide our purpose behind less than complete transparency!

For several years, I have been working to eradicate the word survey from the vocabulary of my clients and my associates. In the context of our customer satisfaction measurement work, we speak about interviews, evaluations, consultations, assessments and open dialogues with respondents. In combination with considerate and honest conversation with the respondents, accurate disclosure of the time we are requesting and well constructed interview scripts/questionnaires, it is my hope that we can rebuild the trust of our most valued partner in the success of the work that we do as marketing researchers – the study respondent.

To follow the discussion on LinkedIn, follow this link:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Anne Miner
Anne Miner, the founding partner of The Dunvegan Group, first entered the field of marketing and survey research in 1974. Since then, she has been the lead consultant on assignments across virtually all product and service categories, from diapers to transportation. Anne is respected for her ability to work closely with her clients' teams to identify the issues to be investigated, focus on what is actionable and develop creative solutions.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here