Fieldwork Tips - 3 Tried And Tested Ways To Reduce Straight Liners And Get More For Your Budget

Fieldwork Tips | 26 Feb 2018


Who’d have thought that when it comes to attention spans, goldfish have got us beat. Whether or not you believe that the average human attention span is now a meagre 8.25 seconds, it’s clear that declining attention spans are a rising problem in quantitative youth research.

Take the traditional online survey, for instance; research shows that – as survey length increases – there is a smooth progression of drop-outs which peak at the 20-minute mark. As respondents’ engagement levels fall, it goes without saying that you can expect an increase in straight-liners and a decrease in data quality: your fieldwork takes longer, your deadline is missed, and the research suffers.

With so much at risk, the need to improve survey engagement with 16-24 year olds has never been greater. As a specialist youth research agency, we've nurtured our panellists and our response rates (which are now among the highest in our industry). We’ve spent nearly 15 years innovating and refining the best techniques to ensure your youth respondents are real and engaged. We’ve already shared our golden rules on dealing with a longer survey, so here’s our follow-up - three ways to increase youth engagement, reduce straight-liners and ultimately, get more for your money.


1. Bridge the gap between online and real life

It’s hard to imagine a world without emojis, GIFs and memes. With around 95% of the population being users, Emoji is now the most exercised language on the planet; yet, when it comes to the research world, it can sometimes feel as if we’re stuck in the 90s. There is, after all, a disconnect between how people communicate in the real world and how we ask them to communicate in surveys. From open-ends to lists & grids, young respondents are encountering huge amounts of survey content, which, coupled with declining attention spans, means – you guessed it – a phenomenal number of drop-outs and straight-liners.

Fortunately, we’ve explored two easy fixes: (1) meme inspired GIFs and (2) fun questions!

To test the effectiveness of each:

  1. We invited 1,000 The OpinionPanel Community members aged 16-24 to take part in our survey experiment.
  2. Each respondent was randomly allocated one of three possible survey routes: the first route featured a ‘fun question’ at the midway point; the second introduced a half-time motivational GIF; and the third had just the standard survey questions without a GIF or fun question.


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Although the total number of dropouts and straight-liners was relatively low to begin with, both the GIF and ‘fun question’ had an undeniably positive impact overall. Compared to the standard survey, the ‘fun question’ reduced straight-lining by a massive 44%, while the GIF smashed it out of the park with a whopping 66% decrease in dropouts.  

What we’ve learnt: To ensure your fieldwork isn’t bogged down by straight-liners and dropouts, try using both ‘fixes’ together: a ‘fun question’ is great for encouraging respondents to pay attention, while the right GIF can be a great motivator to ensure respondents don’t dropout before the end.

2. Want respondents to open up? Let them talk - out loud! 

Getting young people to open-up is a perennial problem. And in a survey environment, this problem can seem amplified, particularly when dealing with sensitive topics such as sexuality and mental health. So how can we encourage young people to share more in surveys? Consider video

As a full-service youth research agency, we regularly use video voxpops to compliment quantitative surveys. So, we wanted to know whether a video response – in comparison with an open text question – could be an effective tool in encouraging respondents to share more. Although it seems counterintuitive to ask young people to share their thoughts on sensitive topics via a medium that is raw and open like video, we had a hunch that mimicking the concept of an everyday conversation and having them talk out loud in the privacy of their own home could help them to open up.

In a survey focusing on mental health, we asked The OpinionPanel Community members to answer the following:

What do you think are the reasons for this spike in mental health issues amongst young people?

Crucially, this question was put to half of the respondents as an open-text response, and to the other half as a video answer using our mobile voxpop style tool, SnapMe. The outcome? On average, respondents who answered via video covered two topics and said 85 words – nearly 4x the number of words given by respondents answering via an open text box. That’s a clear win for video!

What we’ve learnt: Young research participants aren’t scared of the camera. Combined with the right topic, video can help respondents to open-up and can be a great way to add colour and context to quantitative research. 


3. A creative solution for long surveys : SwipeMe

It’s not just the dating game that Tinder is changing; rather, the app’s now infamous ‘swipe’ functionality has become such a well-recognised indicator of refusal or acceptance, that the research industry – and youth researchers, in particular – should be sitting up and taking notice. So, is the ‘swipe’ really an effective tool for research?

Working with a long list of answer options, we found that – compared with a standard multi-code or looped question – a ‘swipe-based’ question led to a 10% increase in accuracy. And what about the respondents themselves – did they enjoy it more? According to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received at the end of the survey, it’s a resounding ‘yes’ from the The OpinionPanel Community:


What we’ve learnt: With higher-quality - and more honest – results, plus greater survey enjoyment, a ‘swipe-based’ question can be an extremely efficient way to get respondents to consider and provide feedback on a large volume of content.

Be sure to use it sparingly though: too many swipe questions in a row can cause respondents to get ‘swipe-happy’.  

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