Should Survey Demographic Questions be at the Beginning or End of a Survey?

At many tradeshows and seminars, we are frequently asked many common questions.  A couple of our common questions include “What is Snap Survey Software?” and “How do you compare to those monkey surveys?” (That’s one of our favorites!) One common question in particular, however, is related to survey design – “Should demographic questions be included at the beginning or at the end of a survey?”

Many survey researchers will answer “Definitely at the beginning,” and others will say, “No, at the end is the best place.” Some may even suggest putting the most important demographic questions at the beginning and save the less important demographic questions for the end. 

In actuality, the best and shortest answer is – there is no right answer! 

Positioning demographic questions may depend on how sensitive the survey questions are; the level of security and guarantee of respondent anonymity; and so on. If questions appear too invasive or are outwardly irrelevant to the overall topic of the survey, you run the risk of alienating your respondents. When confronted with such questions, respondents may ignore the question, provide either untrue or incomplete responses, or even terminate the survey.

Examples of sensitive demographic questions include topics related to religious affiliation, race, income, and health-related questions. Online surveys may be better than interviewer led paper surveys or tablet surveys for certain types of questions, especially if acquiring responses to sensitive demographic questions are an integral part of your survey research data. Respondents may not be as open and honest when answering sensitive survey questions when asked by an interviewer. Online surveys provide the respondent with more privacy.

When administering any survey, an important thing to remember is to be completely open and honest with your respondents. Provide information about who will have access to the survey data and whether respondents are identifiable or not. If you are planning a survey that asks respondent to provide sensitive information, utilizing a third party survey research provider to conduct your surveys is a good recommendation. This will increase the chances of respondents answering sensitive questions. Many online survey software providers have the internal research services to assist you with your survey research projects. Aside from online surveys, advanced survey software providers often offer multiple modes of survey research such as paper surveys, mobile surveys, and kiosk surveys, all of which can be used to collect data from various populations.

Stick by the general rule – if you don’t really need to know, then don’t ask.

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