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Better survey results through text messaging

NSF Award:

Collaborative Research: Responding to Surveys on Mobile Multimodal Devices  (University of Michigan Ann Arbor)

Collaborative Research: Responding to Surveys on Mobile Multimodal Devices  (New School University)

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People responding to a survey on a smartphone provided higher quality data to researchers when surveyed by short messaging system (SMS) text than by voice interviews. Regardless of whether the questions were asked by a human or automated interviewer, respondents provided more precise answers and disclosed more sensitive information through text messages.

Despite the widespread use of SMS text, little is known about people's preferences and likelihood of providing high-quality data in text versus voice. As people increasingly communicate via different modes (voice, text, email, Web browser and social media) on their smartphones, they will expect to be able to respond to surveys through the modes of communication they routinely use.

Findings from this study suggest that the quality of answers to survey questions may be improved by conducting interviews in SMS text. Because survey data are used to inform important policy questions, it is crucial that researchers in both government and academic settings are aware of the potential of different methods for gathering high-quality data.

The process used to collect data greatly affects the accuracy of survey data. The collection process is on the cusp of radical change as more and more people communicate with one another through new media and devices, and members of the public replace their landline phones with mobile phones. As a result, mobile phone surveys will likely become more common.

This research examined the impact of mobile survey-taking and respondents' mode choice and how they correspond to their willingness to participate in surveys, their willingness to complete questionnaires they have started, the quality of their answers, and their satisfaction with the experience. The results suggest that respondents experience less time pressure and feel greater privacy in text than voice interviews, even though text messages leave a lasting visual record that others might see. Text messaging allows respondents the time to think carefully about their answers--even consulting relevant records--and increases their willingness to provide valuable, sensitive information. Respondents also reported high satisfaction with text interviews, with many reporting that this method is more convenient because they can continue with other activities while responding.


  • screen image of text interview on a mobile device
A user participates in a text interview on a mobile device.
Michael Schober, New School for Social Research and Frederick Conrad, University of Michigan

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