It was Sunday afternoon; my prolonged sleep was disturbed by the hustle-bustle going at the doorstep. All I could hear was my mom saying ‘yes’, ‘no’,’ no not yes’’ sometimes’, ‘next question’ and so on. I soon jumped off my bed to figure out the actual thing. My mom was answering to some person conducting a questionnaire. Yes, questionnaire- a research instrument consisting of a series of questions and other prompts for the sole purpose of gathering information from respondents. My mom was one of them among the. The person conducting the survey has to reach a defined number of respondents in order to draw a meaningful hypothesis from the questionnaire. It sometimes happens that questions are designed in a way that respondents answers the way the researcher wants to be answered. Meeting ethical standards ensures researchers act in good faith and protects the integrity of the resulting data. This led me to write this blog on ethics in questionnaire.
Questionnaire ethics begin with design. Research questions should be clear and objective. Leading questions, which prompt an answer through word choice or an inadequate range of response, should be strictly avoided. For example, while it’s very easy to put spin on some questions in an attempt to generate respondent goodwill, questions such as, “Don’t you agree that our office is a great place to work?” violate good faith and result in compromised data. Surveys should not contain hypothetical questions or designed to embarrass respondents.
Respondents should not be tricked or forced into participating into questionnaire-based research. Respondents should be clearly told the nature and purpose of the research and any anticipated drawbacks of participating in the survey or interview. In also explanations must be given in audience appropriate language. In other words, the meaning of the research should not be hidden behind technical explanations or jargon. Participants must be allowed to asked questions, and, if they choose, quit the study.
If confidentiality is promised to survey respondents, it must be protected on ethical grounds. Researchers should not disclose in any case of pressure or incentives from clients to release the names, contact information or family information of survey respondents. In addition, no matter how interesting the results, researchers should not talk about their data with their friends or family members. Data from one research/project should not be sold to another organization.
While questionnaire-based research does not usually carry the same psychological or physical risks to participants as experimental research, debriefing is critical in case participation has harmed a respondent. For example, according to the Journal of Medical Ethics, a survey about breast cancer given to a population awaiting a breast cancer diagnosis had adverse effects for several participants. The study found that participating in the survey increased both anxiety and unrealistic positive expectations for some of the respondents. As such, ethical research requires a debriefing session to answer participant questions prompted by the questionnaire or to provide support for anyone negatively impacted by participation.
This is just what it takes to design and conduct a questionnaire/survey free from any ethical concerns.