Conducting the Survey: Ensuring Security

Researchers have a professional and legal obligation to inform respondents about the security of their personal information and survey responses. Researchers must describe the ways in which the respondent’s identity and responses will be protected, be they anonymous or confidential. Below are the differences between anonymity and confidentiality and an example statement, demonstrating how you can assure your respondents their answers are secure.

Anonymity 
In the case of anonymous surveys, no one, including the researcher, is able to connect a respondent to his/her answers.

Example Anonymity Statement: We will not be tracking any identifying information. Your responses are completely anonymous.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Can lead to higher response rates because the respondent knows his/her identifying information cannot be tracked
  • Anonymous surveys are distributed via public links, allowing a respondent to take the survey more than once or surveys of undesirable participants will be included
  • Respondents are not able to stop in the middle of the survey and resume at a later time
  • Researchers have no way of knowing who completed the survey, therefore, all reminder emails will be sent to the original list, leading to survey fatigue

Confidentiality 
When conducting confidential surveys, the researcher may have the capability to match up responses. This can be done at the University of Minnesota using an X-500 user name. However, answers will be decoupled and any information that could identify a respondent will be removed by the researcher or an independent third party. 

Example Confidentiality Statement: You may be assured of complete confidentiality. Your email address will be stored only to track survey completion. The data will be reported only in the aggregate and no individual will be identified. 

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Ability to pre-load demographic data, decreasing the number of items that need to be included in the survey
  • Authentication options to control access to the survey, such as X-500 log-in
  • Ability to personalize the email invitation (i.e., Dear Sue,)
  • Allows respondent to leave the survey and respond at a later time
  • No unnecessary reminder emails to those who have already responded
  • Ability to match respondents to pre- and post-survey results to make paired comparisons during analysis
  • Can lead to lower response rates because the respondent knows he/she is being tracked in some way