Bias exists in all forms of research and every discipline. Even the most seasoned researchers acknowledge the fact that the different types of bias in research can exist at any phase of the study – from survey design and data collection to analysis.
Why is bias a problem in research? More importantly, how can we eliminate bias to produce high-quality results?
Here, we will delve into the different types of bias in research that we should strive to eliminate, as well as how we can avoid them.
What Is Bias in Research?
Bias in research pertains to unfair and prejudiced practices that influence the results of the study. From sampling bias to asking leading questions, unfair practices can seep into different phases of research. Thus, it’s important for researchers to be well aware of its many forms in order to prevent or eliminate them from the study.
Whether or not researchers do it intentionally, bias can negatively affect the outcomes of the study. It makes the results irrelevant and insignificant. Eliminating bias in research is quite a taxing endeavor, but it’s all worth it. You ought to know how to identify the different kinds of bias researchers and respondents can introduce into the study. That’s the first step to ensuring the quality of your results.
In eliminating or, at least, minimizing bias, you can produce research with reliable and valid results that can benefit your business, community, or society in general. Publishing false claims can do more harm than good to the people and organizations that rely on these studies.
Unfortunately, many turn a blind eye to research bias. Sometimes, it could be a lack of resources or time that drives researchers to ignore these unfair practices.
Opinion Stage is an interactive content creation platform that can help you minimize bias in research. As it comes with an intuitive survey maker with pre-made yet highly-customizable survey templates, you can write unbiased questions that will produce valid and reliable results. The survey maker even delivers comprehensive reports on the results and performance of the survey, allowing you to improve the quality of your research.
Types of Bias in Qualitative Research
Human error causes bias in research. Some people may do it intentionally. However, most researchers unknowingly add all kinds of biases into their studies at various phases of the study.
Bias in research, whether quantitative or qualitative, may come in different types.
Due to the nature of qualitative data, bias is more likely to occur in this form of research. Not only that, it can exist in all parts of the study. However, qualitative research has more room for creativity and flexibility. Thus, it can produce more insights that one cannot generate from quantitative research.
In qualitative research, bias can either be caused by respondents or researchers.
Respondents can add bias to your research by answering questions untruthfully. If they choose answers that are more socially acceptable instead of ones that reflect what they truly think or feel, they unknowingly create bias. Sometimes, respondents also introduce bias when they know the researchers or sponsors of the study. For example, respondents may simply agree to everything that’s recommended to them.
When researchers conduct their study in a manner that influences the outcomes, they commit one of the two main forms of bias in qualitative studies—researcher bias.
Much like respondents, researchers can commit different types of bias in research. They may introduce bias when they ask questions that influence the respondents’ answers or when they interpret data to match their hypothesis.
Avoiding bias in qualitative studies is challenging. At best, you can eliminate such occurrences in the study to protect the quality of the data you gather and the integrity of the research itself.
Identifying Respondent Bias
Survey participants are often unaware of it, but they tend to introduce bias into research by answering questions untruthfully. Response bias occurs when they feel pressured to answer questions in a more socially acceptable way. Or, they might feel compelled to provide responses that enable researchers to achieve their desired outcomes. Non-response bias is also common, which occurs when response rates are low.
Let’s take a closer look at the different forms of respondent bias.
Also dubbed acquiescence bias, friendliness bias occurs when respondents simply tend to agree with the ideas that they are presented within the survey. They may even tend to give more positive ratings or feedback. Sometimes, this happens when participants perceive the brand or researchers as professionals or authoritative figures. However, it may still happen even when respondents don’t necessarily have an inherent affinity towards the brand surveying them. Their acquiescent personalities may enable them to introduce such biases to the research.
There are also instances where friendliness bias occurs because of the length of the survey itself. When it drags on, respondents may feel disengaged and tired that they will start to agree with everything that’s presented to them.
Social Desirability Bias
Another form of bias that’s created when respondents answer questions in a particular manner is called social desirability bias. This occurs when people give responses that they think are more socially acceptable. Let’s say you’re asking controversial or sensitive questions. Respondents may provide inaccurate answers just to put themselves in the best possible light.
You can prevent this from happening by choosing your words carefully. Make respondents feel that there is no right answer and that any answer is acceptable. You may also want to consider phrasing the questions indirectly, such as asking them what a third party might do in certain scenarios. In doing so, respondents can project their own perspectives and answer questions more accurately.
Sponsor bias usually occurs when respondents who are familiar with the researchers provide answers which they think they will want to hear. Knowing a brand’s mission or core principles, for example, may influence how they respond to the survey questions.
Maintaining a neutral stance in your questions will prevent you from influencing the respondents’ answers. Furthermore, you should refrain from providing details about the sponsors, including their logo or the goal of the research.
A survey must always be brief and engaging. If not, respondents may find it tedious and boring. Some might drop out, while others might continue answering questions without fully paying attention.
Halfway through the questionnaire, they might start providing similar responses to questions that are phrased in the same manner just so they can get it over with. This is one form of bias in qualitative studies. It’s called habituation bias, which is mostly how our brain responds to conserve more energy.
Language is key to preventing this type of bias. In designing the survey, it’s best to keep the questions conversational and engaging. At the same time, researchers should change the wording of the questions.
Opinion Stage offers a Survey Maker tool in their online platform which provides visually appealing pre-made templates that respondents want to participate in. With higher response rates, you can expect to get better and more accurate results from respondents.
Identifying Researcher Bias
Researchers tend to introduce bias when they want their study to produce certain outcomes, particularly ones that meet their hypothesis. If researchers manipulate questions to prompt the desired responses, they are only compromising the quality of their data. As a result, they will end up wasting precious resources on insights that won’t move the needle.
Here are some of the most common forms of researcher bias.
Using biased language in survey questions can affect the answers of the respondents. This is evident in leading questions, where respondents are often influenced to answer in a particular manner. Much like other forms of bias, these questions should be avoided at all costs as they produce inaccurate results that can hurt the quality of your research.
Examples of leading questions:
- Was our excellent customer support team helpful?
- Do you have any problems with customer service?
Aside from the language used in a survey, the order of questions, as well as their level of specificity, can affect respondents’ answers. If one question influences a respondent’s answer to succeeding questions, it constitutes research bias. This, in particular, is called question-order bias.
Let’s say you want respondents to rate how satisfied they are with your brand in general and then with a specific product. If you ask them to report on their brand experience first, you will see a slight correlation between the questions and their responses. Reversing the order, however, may lead to different outcomes, where happy consumers of a particular product rate higher satisfaction levels with the brand. By starting with the specific question, you gain biased results on the more general query.
Question-order bias is often inevitable. However, you can strive to minimize this type of bias by designing your surveys carefully and meticulously. You may also want to ask general questions before delving into more specific ones.
Asking unaided questions before delving into aided questions can help minimize bias. Moreover, you may want to start with positive questions before going into negative ones.
The Opinion Stage intuitive survey maker utilizes branch logic to deliver the right order of questions based on respondents’ answers. Using this highly-customizable intuitive solution, you can improve response rates, gather accurate data, and produce actionable insights.
One of the most pervasive types of bias in qualitative research happens when researchers establish a particular hypothesis and shape their entire methodology to confirm the premise. This is called confirmation bias.
When researchers determine the value of responses based on their capacity to support their hypothesis, confirmation bias occurs.
Researchers who judge people based on their own culture’s values and standards introduce cultural bias into their study. To eliminate this form of bias, researchers must strive to understand the influences and motivations of a particular group of respondents in terms of their own culture.
Eliminating this type of bias might not be completely possible. However, by being conscious of your own cultural assumptions, you can significantly minimize such instances in your research.
Types of Bias in Quantitative Research
As with qualitative studies, bias in quantitative research can affect the validity of the results. Researchers must be very careful of the methods they use in this type of research to prove the accuracy and integrity of their study.
Let’s find out what types of biases can occur in quantitative research.
Long-term experiments and studies are susceptible to historical bias because, along the way, respondents may experience different events that influence their thoughts and attitudes. In turn, it may skew the results of your experiment.
If, for instance, you conducted an experiment around the time of an earthquake, respondents who saw its effects first-hand may have different beliefs and attitudes. To prevent history bias, you should establish experimental and control groups that have experienced the same events. You may select respondents from the same communities or organizations.
Aside from events and experiences, time can change the attitudes, feelings, and thoughts of respondents. If you conduct a long-term study, their maturity might skew the outcome of your research. You can, however, prevent this from happening by selecting participants from the same age group. This way, they will grow at the same pace as everyone else throughout the duration of your study.
In quantitative research, another type of bias you might encounter is measurement bias. It refers to a systematic error that happens during the data collection phase of research. It occurs when you measure outcomes poorly. When you overstate or understate the value of measurement, favoring a certain result, you create this type of bias.
Overcoming Different Types of Bias in Research
Quantitative and qualitative studies utilize different methodologies. Similarly, both approaches require different methods and processes when it comes to avoiding bias.
In terms of qualitative studies, researchers can avoid bias by being aware of its many forms. Knowing what to avoid is an excellent first step toward accurate and valid research. Given that language plays a crucial role in qualitative studies, you must also be very careful in designing survey questions. Neutral language must be favored over biased and loaded words. Not to mention, you must make your surveys quick, simple, conversational, and engaging.
Unlike qualitative studies, researchers can eliminate bias in quantitative studies. You can utilize different statistical tests such as z-test and t-test to determine the authenticity and integrity of your results. You may want to choose your respondents wisely. Randomization, for example, can help eliminate bias. However, if you’re doing long-term research, you may want to pick respondents from the same age group or the same community.
Of course, you must, at all times, refrain from using methods that steer results to confirm your hypothesis.
The Importance of Avoiding Research Bias
Biased research has very little to no value. Such studies produce distorted impressions and present false conclusions. Often, the findings of biased research can impede important decision-making processes and may cause harm to the people or businesses that rely on them.
Acknowledging one’s susceptibility to bias and understanding its many forms will help you design a balanced survey. As long as you know what types of bias in research to look for and how to eliminate them, you can produce valuable results.
The Opinion Stage intuitive survey maker has a series of templates that help you make engaging and unbiased questions that produce accurate and actionable results.