Research

Research in the age of distractions: Tips on how to engage multi-tasking survey participants

Research in the age of distractions: Tips on how to engage multi-tasking survey participants

Whether through visual questions, interactive survey designs or gamification, researchers constantly look for new ways to engage survey participants. But in a world full of distractions and time-poor individuals, are researchers missing a key issue? Do people who take surveys really pay attention?

We recently asked 2025 U.K. residents about their habits when answering surveys. We wanted to gain insights on people‰’s locations when they take a survey, what other activities they were doing and how this varied across different age groups.

We found that a majority of people usually multi-task while completing a survey. Two-thirds of the 18-24 year olds said they were doing something else when doing the survey. Although this response declines with age, about one-third of the 65 and over age group were participating in another activity. These other activities ranged from watching TV (32%) to using other websites and cooking, which are likely to be particularly distracting.

The fact that at least one third of your survey participants multitask has implications on your research design and result quality. Here are three tips to keep in mind when designing a survey for multi-tasking participants.

  1. Know your demo.

    Having a clear idea who you‰’re targeting in your survey is critical. As it turns out, age isn‰’t just a number when it comes to surveys.

    There‰’s a clear distinction among age groups on where they complete the survey. Depending on the nature of your survey, the participant‰’s location could affect how much distraction they get exposed to.

    • Although 92% of our participants completed the survey at home, we found that younger people were likely to complete it in their bedroom (54% of 18-24 year olds), while those 25 to 65 are most likely to complete it in the living room/lounge.
    • Interestingly, older respondents were more likely than younger respondents to complete the survey in a study, with 35% of the over 65 year olds citing the study‰ – nearly as many as those completing the survey in the living room.

    When designing your survey, hone in on the age range of your participants and consider where they might complete the survey.

  2. If you have a younger community, mobile is important.

    Researchers need to understand which devices people use when answering surveys. With people‰’s attention spans shrinking, you don‰’t want to frustrate people because the survey isn‰’t formatted properly for their device of choice.

    Although personal computers still dominate as the device of choice, we found that nearly one in four of the 18-24 year olds now used mobile devices (phone or tablets) to complete surveys. Similarly, 20% of 25 and 44 year olds completed the survey on a mobile device.

    We suspect that mobile adoption will continue to climb among all age groups and recommend that researchers accommodate this trend to avoid losing the interest of survey participants.

  3. Accommodate everyone‰’s browser needs.

    Similar to our last point, the last thing you want to happen is for participants to abandon your survey because it doesn‰’t work on their preferred browser.

    Our research shows that browser preference varies widely, which means researchers should ensure their survey works on all major browsers. Although Internet Explorer is the most popular browser overall, no one browser completely dominates. Internet Explorer ranks well with older participants, with 51% of the over 65 year olds using it, but fares poorly with the under 35 crowd. Firefox ranks relatively stable across all age groups. Although most survey services cater to all browsers, it won‰’t hurt to double check and perhaps test the platform yourself.

We‰’re just barely scratching the surface of this topic, and it warrants further research to evaluate the extent to which these mode differences affect research results and to assess possible remedies. For example, would a more engaging survey experience result in less multi-tasking? We plan to do further research-on-research on this topic and we‰’d invite anybody else looking at this topic to join with us in sharing information.



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