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For some weeks now I have been assigned to the Financial Good News Desk here at Language Log Plaza. It took me longer than it should have done for me to realize that this was just some sort of practical joke aimed at making sure I did not write anything, apparently because of pressure from the office of the Vice President of the United States (because of posts like this one, I suppose). I eventually applied for a transfer, and have now been assigned to the Research Survey Department. So I have to send out surveys. Please answer the questions below in your own time despite the considerable difficulties with format and the obscurity of the questions, and return by email at our convenience to surveys@research.languagelog.com, where an automatic system will use it to generate data entirely for our benefit rather than yours.

Do you believe the world has gone survey mad and that nearly all surveys done are a gigantic waste of time? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
Do you think surveys asking for people's opinions about the way things are, rather than verifiable things they have done, are an even more extreme form of stupidity, resulting in nonsense like "43% of employees believe managers may be snooping on them" being passed off as news or even social science? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree

Does it sometimes occur to you to just refuse to do any more surveys until the morons who make them up show some signs of getting their act together? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
Do you sometimes suspect certain surveys of having commercial motivations that are not fully disclosed until later? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
Is your home fully carpeted throughout with high-quality fitted carpets that you would not want to replace even if one of Language Log's commercial partners was able to offer you an extremely good-value product? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
What do you believe are the reasons why the form of the question sometimes has no discernible relation to the selection of possible answers the format provides, when even the most elementary linguistic consideration would immediately highlight the incompatibility? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
Is Language Log the best goddamn linguistics blog anywhere on the web, and possibly in the entire universe? __ strongly agree
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15 Comments »

  1. Alexandre said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 10:48 am

    Both fun and insightful. There are many issues with surveys yet they're rarely questioned as a research methodology. Mainstream media uses survey results as they stand, without any context. Some social scientists debate the specifics of survey use yet they seem to rarely ask themselves whether or not surveys are the most appropriate data-gathering method for a given task.
    Thankfully, language sciences rarely use surveys.

  2. mae said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 11:05 am

    You didn't mirror one of the most annoying things about surveys: they often repeat the same question in a number of different forms, so they keep you on the phone for an extra hour or so. (I now hang up on ANYONE who wants to survey me, so maybe they stopped doing this).

    Yes, Language Log is the best doggone linguistics blog anywhere on the web, and possibly in the entire universe.

  3. Luke said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

    Also really annoying: when bad survey methodology is compounded by bad HTML logic. This particular survey won't let the subject proceed until every box is checked.

  4. Mark P said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Do you think that the originators of certain types of surveys, particularly political types, throw away the surveys they receive while checking the envelopes for money?

  5. Rubrick said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 3:19 pm

    I blame Family Feud.

  6. Peter said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

    "Do you sometimes suspect certain surveys of having commercial motivations that are not fully disclosed until later?"

    Sugging (from "Selling Under the Guise of doing research") is prohibited by most professional Market Research societies, such as the MRS of the UK.

  7. Foo Bar said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

    Forgotten last question:
    Should anyone answer this survey? __ strongly disagree

  8. Faldone said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 10:08 pm

    Every good survey should have a question of the sort:

    Do you know anyone who practices some specific and probably illegal habit?

    Then you can conclude that, e.g., 80% of high school students know someone who smokes when they all know this one really popular guy that smokes.

  9. Stuart said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

    I've worked in market research for nearly 20 years now, and long ago resigned myself to the reality of occupational pariahhood. On the upside, the vast majority of my work involves social policy research for various national government departments and local government authorities, and I've had the opportunity to be involved in projects covering everything from physical and mental health to adult literacy and numeracy and the health of the Maaori language. While my professional experience does mean that I get annoyed with all the sloppy, half-baked surveys out there, I hope that the overall positive tone of my responses to this survey will not be so much in the minority as to fall within the margin of error.

  10. Stuart said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

    Please forgive the double post, but I posted before doing the survey. The penultimate question is pure genius, and one of the funniest things I've read on the intertubes this week. Questions of that sort are the bane of my working existence, and it makes a nice change to read such idiocy when it is intended to raise a laugh. The normal reaction I have to questions like that one is a raging desire to inflict greivous bodily harm on the client who insists that it be retained unchanged, no matter how many interviewers and respondents complain about it..

  11. Ric said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 4:48 am

    This is what I thought when I read the third question:

    Does it sometimes occur to you to just refuse to do any more surveys until the morons who make them up match the answers with the questions? — I strongly agree.

  12. Perry Hewitt said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 9:38 am

    You may have seen the AdAge piece on The End of Consumer Surveys a few weeks back.

    Excerpt:
    "I don't know if we are going to have a choice but to move away from survey research," said Donna Goldfarb, VP-consumer and market insights for Unilever Americas, who will headline a Sept. 22 workshop ARF is hosting in New York. "We continue to torture consumers with boring and antiquated search methods," she said. "What's holding us back is history and norms. But I work in a business where I think most of the senior leadership is still very frustrated with the tools that we are using."

    A related topic I will never understand — why are online quizzes so popular for 12-17 age group? Was just testing some quiz sites and the kids loved 'em: "Miley vs. Jamie Lynn" "Are you a rock or a butterfly?" Go figure!

  13. sandra wilde said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

    I once was called for a phone survey asking whether I thought, basically, that TV programs with adult content should be banned so that children wouldn't be exposed to them. It was phrased in such a way that most people would agree with the idea of banning. When I said no, that I liked watching programs with mature content, the woman virtually sputtered at me.

  14. Sassy said,

    October 7, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

    Where's the question about what income bracket I'm in?

  15. Catanea said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 4:32 am

    Here's what happens to me: I am atypically interested in being surveyed because I know my consumption patterns are not those of the majority of people in the country I live in, and I feel that those using surveys should be aware that there are people who don't fit their preconceptions. BUT quite often the surveyor begins by asking "Are you aware of the promotional campaign for x product? Have you seen these commercials?" and as soon as I say "I don't have a television." the surveyor says, "I'm sorry. This survey only takes into account television viewers." And hangs up. So I guess they'll never even HAVE a statistic on non-television owners…

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