Why it’s the time to ‘take down the grid’

I’ll be honest up-front, the opinions expressed in this post are largely based on my personal preference (albeit with a very healthy dollop of common sense and some peer group thinking).

People, it’s time to get rid of survey grids.

This and similar advice also comes from Pew Research, KantarSSI and Infosurv among others (even the Social Science Computer Review has published in this area).

Grids are horrible to complete online – especially so on a mobile device – and definitely are a cause of data quality issues due to incompletes, satisficing, straight-lining, false response and skipped questions.

As far as I can see, there is never a good enough reason to use a grid question in an online survey.

Think about it logically – grids were borne in an era where paper and pen surveys dominated market research. Space was precious and the grid was a fantastic solution to collect data more efficiently, keeping down the cost of printing survey pages. They were also easy to scan and process.

Hey, once-upon-a-time grids were really neat!

Fast forward to today, when most research is online, and the argument for using grids has utterly disappeared.

So why are they still being used?

They are easy for researchers to create in their early drafts of surveys, easy for survey programmers to set-up, they might even make DP easier. If that’s the case then I’m afraid to say that (in my opinion) ‘ease of use’ has led to profound laziness.

New and emerging survey platforms are also responsible in that they offer this question format on even their basic subscription package. Often those using these platforms are non-researchers who see the ease of use benefit without understanding the grid’s drawbacks.

So what’s the answer? With web development being such an amazing and quickly evolving discipline, the answer is surely UX and technical. Drag-n-drop? Sorting? I don’t know all the possibilities that are available and the best solution has likely not been thought of yet.

A collaboration between researchers – those who understand the principles of good data collection – UX designers and techies – those who are creative enough to find inventive solutions – is much-needed.

Who’s with me?

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