How To Create An Anonymous Survey

Philip Cleave
May 12, 2023
Picture depicting an anonymous survey respondent

When it comes to your survey, one of the biggest questions you’ll be faced with is should I collect my respondents’ names or let them remain nameless and anonymous?

A good way to answer this is to consider how necessary it is to know who’s responding to your survey, as a lot of issues can be effectively handled just by acting on the responses themselves.

You also need to think about your response rate and barriers that might stop people from completing your survey, as some people may not want to respond if they’re forced to leave their contact details. Alternatively, allowing them to remain anonymous will make a lot more people feel confident and comfortable about filling in your survey, which will help boost your response rate and encourage more honest and valuable feedback from respondents too.

Obviously, you’ll have to make the final call about whether you want to make your survey anonymous or not, and that may vary depending on your audience and the type of insight you’re looking to gather. But if you’d like to know more about anonymous surveys and how best to go about creating one, you might like to read on.

Anonymous survey definition

An anonymous survey is essentially a survey that does not gather any personal identifiable information (PII) from a respondent, such as their name, email address, social security number, street address, birthdate, or any other data points that could easily link you to an individual survey respondent.

When conducting a survey of this type, you also need to be aware of any additional identifying factors, such as IP address or contact information for follow-up studies. Try to ensure those items are not traceable, so your results remain unbiased and your participants genuinely anonymous.

Why make your survey anonymous?

There are many reasons why you might like to make your survey anonymous:

Recipients are more likely to respond

With no requirement to leave any personal identifiable information, and the ability to remain anonymous survey recipients will now feel more comfortable about responding. Consequently, your response rate should improve too.

Your feedback is likely to be even more useful

Sometimes It can be a challenge to get insight on difficult or sensitive subjects. However, you're more likely to get it if people are allowed to remain anonymous. For example, consider staff surveys and sensitive questions about management or company culture. People are more likely to respond and answer honestly if they cannot be identified.

There’s much less risk of bias

There’s two ways that anonymous surveys can help reduce bias from slipping into your results.

Firstly, compared with the social desirability bias that can occur when survey takers are made to provide identifiable details, when your survey’s totally anonymous, there’s no longer any reason for respondents to answer untruthfully, which helps improve the overall reliability of your survey results.

Secondly, when survey creators know the identity of their survey participants, such as in an employee survey, it can lead them have a biased opinion about some of the answers. In contrast, when there's no longer any identifiable information among the responses the data analysis process can be much more objective.

When to use an anonymous survey?

When it comes to their use, some situations are more suited to the use of anonymous surveys than others. So, it’s useful to have some use case examples to draw on, so you can determine when it’s best to run an anonymous survey or not.

Here are some popular use cases for anonymous surveys:

Patient experience

Patient data is subject to the highest levels of confidentiality, security and data protection.

However, there are occasions when patients want to discuss sensitive issues like their treatment, medication, health issues and the wider quality of service they have received, but without revealing their identities. In such cases, issuing an anonymous patient feedback or patient satisfaction survey is an ideal solution for this.

However, to maximize participation you may want to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the survey, to let respondents know that their identity will remain anonymous. Ultimately, the better your response rate, the more feedback you’ll have to improve your patient experience along with treatment and care.

Customer satisfaction

Whether it’s a retailer’s online platform, or one of their bricks and mortar stores, shoppers are usually keen to participate in customer satisfaction surveys, to help improve products and services. Yet, at the same time many will be concerned about their confidentiality.

In such a scenario, you may choose to build an anonymous online survey, that can be shared via a regular newsletter that you issue to customers. You would then ensure that you turned off all your conversion trackers, as this might otherwise indicate which newsletter subscribers opened or completed the questionnaire.

Staff work culture

Another way an anonymous survey could be used, could be to assess the workplace culture within an organization.

Consider the scenario of some employees witnessing anonymous reports of bullying between colleagues at their firm or on public online forums. While no names may have been provided, it could be enough for someone who has seen these online comments to report them to that organization’s HR department.

At this point, the HR department in question could decide to create an anonymous online survey, in order to get a view of how their staff perceive their workplace culture, while looking to explore examples of workplace bullying.

The questions in the employee survey could look to assess how safe they feel, how aware they are of proper reporting procedures, and whether they or someone they know has experienced bullying at the company. In addition, they may also ask respondents to name anyone they know who has been exhibiting bullying behavior.

Given that such questions could lead to retaliation from the person or people potentially accused of the bullying, the survey needs to remain anonymous. Doing this ensures staff can hold peers and higher-ranking individuals accountable without risk to their personal security or their jobs.

Depending on the feedback that they got back, the HR team could then put together an action plan to stamp out bullying in their workplace.

Considerations when creating an anonymous survey

Having read through some strong reasons for running an anonymous survey and when to use them, I’m sure many of you will be keen to get started. However, before you do that, here are some considerations to think about when you’re creating your survey.

Clearly communicate your intentions

One of the most important things you’ll need to do, is to let your participants know your survey is anonymous and what that entails before they start filling it out. An ideal place to include this is in the introduction to your survey.

Communicate what information you will and won’t be collecting and who's likely to be assessing that feedback. It’s also helpful to let them know any extra steps you’ll take to ensure their answers are anonymous and outline what you plan to do with their responses after the survey.

Preliminary communication such as this will help instill confidence and set expectations for a successful survey experience for all parties involved.

Disable custom variables

We've already talked about the importance of anonymity in ensuring that no information which could be used to identify an individual will be used. Subsequently, it’s important to ensure you’ve disabled custom variables when creating your survey.

Custom variables allow you to track data about individual respondents, by passing one or more values through a survey link and onto your survey results and can be useful in market research surveys, or surveys that are more promotional in nature.

However, such tracking means they can’t ensure anonymity. So, for surveys that you need to be anonymous due to the sensitivities of the subjects being discussed, or any other reason, then it’s wise to avoid custom variables.

Take care when writing questions

Think carefully about the questions you write. While you might not think your survey questions can be linked to an individual respondent, the answers that such a question would encourage might.

For example, if poorly worded, a demographic question might inadvertently reveal specific information about an individual, their family members, or experiences that may be unique to them or someone with their background.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask these types of questions. You just need to word them very carefully and consider all the possible answers that they might present.

Try to survey a large sample size

Imagine if you were to take a survey that you thought was anonymous, only to discover that all the questions are clearly aimed at people from your specific location, industry, business size, and position. In such a scenario, you’re likely to feel at risk of being identified.

While some surveys will have obvious sample size limitations – such as if you were running an engagement survey of your staff, or a satisfaction survey of your existing customer base. Yet, if you don’t have such constraints, it’s prudent to make your sample size as large as you can, so it’s much more difficult to inadvertently identify participants based on their responses.

Find survey tools that can enable anonymity

Having read about the advantages of making your survey anonymous, the use cases where anonymous surveys are helpful and tips on how to create them, you’ll be well on the way to creating your first anonymous survey.

However, there’s one final thing you need to consider, and that’s the tools you use to create your survey.

When you’re using the right anonymous survey tools it’s so much easier to make your survey project a success. Our own anonymous survey tools are a good example of this with users able to enable the anonymous survey feature during survey creation, which prevents the storage of IP addresses that could otherwise be used to identify a respondent.

However, if you’re going to make the anonymity of your survey respondents 100%, you still need to implement best practice guidance for anonymous surveys alongside this. If you can do this, your ability to achieve a strong response rate to your surveys and gain valuable insights based on this will be hugely improved.

Maximize the impact of your survey

Making your survey anonymous is a great way to maximize the impact of your survey and the response to it. Yet, if you’re to gain the most value, you still need the tools to create great looking surveys, which will help you collect feedback in the best way for your respondents and allow you to hone in quickly on your most valuable insights.

Find out more

Get started and create your first survey

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