Analyze page showing poor quality response

SurveyMonkey Response Quality Tool

Simplifying data cleaning to improve quality of survey insights.
2021, Product designer

Poor responses affect survey insights

The ultimate goal of any survey creator is to collect the most accurate insights from survey responses and use these insights to inform the best possible decisions. The quality of the responses in a survey directly impacts the quality of the insights collected, and poor quality responses can diminish and compromise the insights of a survey study. This is particularly relevant for users that run multiple studies, often at the same time, such as academic or market researchers.

Thousands of people use SurveyMonkey every day, looking for insights they can turn into action. So offering our users high-quality responses is something we genuinely care about. We understood that if we could find a way to improve the quality of the responses in our surveys, we would be able to offer better insights to our customers. That would ultimately result in customers trusting and valuing our product even more.

example of poor quality response

Poor quality response can compromise and diminish the quality of insights from surveys. In this example, the responded speeded through the survey and used gibberish to answer open-ended questions.

Data cleaning is a complicated task

Before users can analyze survey responses and uncover valuable insights, data cleaning is a must. It helps ensure that survey creators will only spend time analyzing responses that are relevant and accurate—so they can go forth and make data-driven business decisions with confidence. Data cleaning involves identifying and eliminating any responses that are poor quality or don’t reflect the target audience. It’s a best practice for any survey project.

What we learned from our initial research is that, despite being a really important step, many survey creators find the cleaning process time-consuming and subjective, and up to 70% skip it altogether. So, to improve the quality of responses and help people gather valuable insights, we needed to make data cleaning simple for survey creators.


of survey creators do not clean their survey data.

"It takes hours and hours to remove these responses manually."

Simplifying the data cleaning process

The way we thought we could simplify data cleaning was by leveraging machine learning capabilities in our product in combination with user feedback to scan open-ended and multiple-choice questions in a survey and flag poor-quality responses.

The first aspect of this solution consists of scanning the survey and assigning a score to respondents according to seven criteria to determine a poor-quality response.For example, if a respondent answers C on every question or speeds through the survey in a questionable amount of time, it suggests that they didn't thoughtfully complete the survey. Since this makes their answers less accurate, we would flag these responses so the survey creator can review them. In the review process, the survey creator can choose whether to keep the responses for the survey analysis or remove them to focus on the more high-quality data you receive.

Another aspect of this solution is user feedback. For example, suppose a survey creator ever thinks that we've incorrectly flagged a response. In that case, they can remove the flag, improving the flagging accuracy in the future and keeping your analysis on the right track.

Response Quality scanner

Exploring the Review Mode

In my initial explorations, the review mode was a sheet that would slide up from the bottom of the screen. The sheet would have a top area identifying the respondent, the poor-quality flags and the buttons to keep or remove the response.This approach intended to get the users in a linear flow and induce them to stay in that mode until they reviewed all poor-quality responses.

One concern that we had specifically about the sheet is that it could feel a little bit intrusive for the users. Knowing that users think data cleaning is time-consuming, forcing them into this flow could have the opposite results.

So, then I started exploring moving from the sheet into the Individual Responses tab. The advantage of this idea is that it is closer to what users already use to see when they analyze the results of their surveys.

Exploring the review mode

The design exploration for the Review Mode looked into how to keep the users focused on the task at hand.

Using filters to surface poor-quality responses

At this point in the project, the team raised some concerns about building the review mode. Engineers were preparing to migrate some of these pages, and we didn't want to increase technical debt. After brainstorming with engineers, we decided to leverage Result Filtering to surface poor-quality responses to users instead of creating a Review Mode.

When the users click "Review Now" after being notified about potential poor-quality responses, they would be directed to the "individual responses tab," where results would automatic filtered to only show those responses marked as poor-quality.

Filtering responses is one of the most frequent tasks performed when analyzing survey data. So we expected it would feel familiar to them once they saw this new filter applied. For engineers, creating automatic filters was much easier and less risky. It also gave us the advantage to leverage some of the existing UI patterns and components.

Using filters to surface poor-quality responses

Using filters to surface poor quality responses enabled the team to leverage existing patterns.

Content strategy explorations

Another critical aspect of the solution was communicating to users the several stages of the Response Analysis scanning cycle. Specifically, we need to tell users when the feature is enabled/disabled, when the criteria for scanning haven't been met, when scanning the responses is in progress but hasn't returned any result, and when the scanning is completed and some responses need attention.

The challenge in this exploration was to find the right balance of how often to communicate with users and the appropriate voice and tone to use. We didn't want the feature to be nagging users so much that they would turn it off.

Initially, working with a content strategist, I explored using a playful language and the use of some custom illustrations to alleviate user's perception that data cleaning is hard work. But we were concerned that this communication style could be perceived as patronizing or even dismissive of the importance of this task.

In the end, we decided to stick to the standard banners we had in our design system instead of the custom ones with illustrations.The language was simple, informative and direct instead of informal and fun. In terms of frequency, we decided to notify users once when they turn the feature on and then only when the scan flagged any responses.

content strategy design exploration

Communicating the several stages of the scanning cycle helped set the expectations about the tool.

Prototype testing and user feedback

With these decisions made, I put together a prototype and tested it with a small group of users. Overall, the tests were successful. Participants could navigate through the flow and understand and explain the scanning process. Most participants described the feature as useful and said they could see themselves using it.

Some of the key learnings from these tests were that most participants wanted to be notified every time the tool completed the scanning, even when no poor-quality responses were found. Participants wanted to understand the criteria for flagging responses and have control over it before enabling the feature. For example, participants wanted to choose to scan for gibberish but not for straight-lining. Lastly, some participants wanted to see the definition of the flag criteria when reviewing the responses.

walkthrough the final solution

The prototype show the end-to-end flow of the Response Quality tool.

Business impact and future improvements

After its release, the success of the Response Quality tool was tremendous, exceeding four times the initial business goals. Users reported a very positive experience with the feature, and the number of customers adopting the tool continues to grow.

Of course, there's still room for improvement, especially regarding how much flexibility users have to adjust the scanner to their context of use. An excellent example of giving users more control is letting them choose which criteria to apply. In some cases, researchers might tolerate straight-lining but flag responses containing gibberish and profanity.
Another idea the team explored is allowing users to adjust the scoring threshold, making the scanning process more or less strict according to their needs.

Improvements like these would likely increase the adoption of new users.