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How to build a successful anonymous survey

Last updated

23 May 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Many people are uncomfortable with giving responses to surveys for fear that they will be targeted with ads, receive multiple texts and emails, or that there will be some sort of repercussion for giving their honest, negative answers.

In many surveys, they have two options: give out personal, traceable information or refuse to take part in the survey. For this reason, some researchers choose anonymous surveys if they do not need to follow up with the respondent. The respondent often feels more comfortable and gives candid and unbiased responses.

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What is an anonymous survey?

Anonymous surveys do not collect personal identifiable information (PII). This includes those items that allow the respondent to be identified, such as email addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, home addresses, or even the respondent's employer or position within a company.

For example, if the respondent gives their employer's name and position within the company, even without knowing their name, the survey could be traced back to them. Even if only a street address is required, a survey could be traced back to a respondent at that address without having a name.

An anonymous survey allows the participants to remain totally anonymous, never being required to share any personal information.

How does an anonymous survey work?

People have solid reasons to be concerned with protecting their personal information. Consider all instances of data breaches and hacked bank accounts that make consumers extra cautious about sharing personal data.

With an anonymous survey, it is important to remain transparent about why you are collecting data and how you will use it. Do not include any questions that would reveal any identifying details about your respondents. This includes contact information and all other PII that can be linked to them.

There can be an issue with anonymous surveys, however. If you want to follow up on an issue or ask for clarification, it is not possible. Anonymous surveys will often ask for voluntary sharing of contact information without requiring it as part of the survey.

Why should a survey be anonymous?

Anonymous surveys create trust and respect among respondents since personal data is important to all of us. Protecting financial information and identifying data are two of the most important things consumers deal with daily.

In addition to protecting sensitive data, anonymous surveys offer a means to share candid, unbiased feedback without their responses being tracked to them. They tend to collect more honest and accurate data because the respondents are assured that there is no retribution or follow-up steps to be taken.

The benefits of an anonymous survey

There are several benefits to creating an anonymous survey, including:

Encourage honest responses

Anonymity in surveys tends to increase the likelihood of honest and accurate responses. Participants are not worried about providing the answers they believe researchers want to hear, and there is no fear of repercussions, leading to more objective results.

Mitigate non-response bias

By assuring participants that their responses are anonymous, researchers can mitigate non-response bias. This can be particularly important when dealing with sensitive topics or negative feedback where people may hesitate to share their opinions.

Reduce social desirability bias

Anonymous surveys help eliminate social desirability bias, which is the tendency for participants to provide socially acceptable rather than truthful answers. Anonymous surveys provide a more accurate picture of participants' true thoughts and feelings.

Increase response rates

Anonymous surveys can also increase response rates, particularly when dealing with sensitive topics or with participants who may feel embarrassed or threatened if asked to share identifiable information. This depends on several factors, including the subject of the survey, the type of survey, and the sample being surveyed.

Is an anonymous survey right for you?

Anonymous surveys are not right for everyone. But they can be invaluable for obtaining certain types of data in specific circumstances. 

An anonymous survey may be right for you when:

You do not require follow-up with respondents

If the data being collected is quantitative, meaning it is based on numbers, anonymous surveys are great. They do not require you to follow up, particularly if the survey is large-scale.

Additionally, if your survey is concentrated on a single feature or attribute of a product or an improvement or revision to a product, an anonymous survey may be a good fit.

You are collecting sensitive data

People are sensitive about many aspects of their lives. These include health concerns and diagnoses, personal financial data, or other areas they may be uncomfortable answering if the information can be traced back to them.

You are a new business

If you are a new business, you probably have not established trust with your customers or potential customers. These respondents may be less likely to give out identifiable information if they are not secure in knowing how the data will be handled.

Respondents may be afraid to answer honestly if they give identifying information

If you are looking for unbiased responses that respondents may feel could lead to unwelcome ads or contacts, retribution or questions from co-workers or managers, or any other unwanted circumstance that could be linked to their PII.

Tips for creating an anonymous survey

If you have decided that an anonymous survey is right for you, here are a few tips for creating your survey. Though each survey will be different, certain features will make your survey more successful when included.

Use a large sample for your survey

Anonymity is best accomplished by enlarging your sample. The smaller the sample, the more identifiable the respondent.

Suppose you were conducting a survey of a specific department within a bigger organization. It would be harder to ensure that personal information is kept confidential. On the other hand, if you surveyed the entire company or multiple departments from different locations or organizations, there would be a greater likelihood of anonymity being maintained.

Communicate your intentions

Your survey participants need assurance that the answers to your survey questions are confidential. That is only part of what they need. Communicate your plans on how the data will be used, who can access it, and what you hope to accomplish.

For example, if you are doing an anonymous survey about cat food and you ask about the participant's income, you should let the respondent know that you are only gathering income data to find your target audience. 

Choose your questions carefully, not including too many demographic or personal questions if they are not essential to your study.

Use the right platform

Survey platforms must be truly anonymous if you want your research quality to be protected. Depending on the survey tools you are using, be sure to disable data-collecting settings on your software.

It is also important if using a survey distribution channel to make sure your settings guarantee anonymity.

When selecting a survey platform, prioritize data security, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance, and ease of survey design for respondents. Choose a platform that offers various response methods, including web-based, email, text, social media, or offline, to maximize participation.

How to build an anonymous survey

To build an anonymous survey, look at the survey collector you intend to use. You will want to turn on anonymous responses in the software so that the collection process guarantees anonymity.

Respondents may not want to give out information such as their home addresses even when guaranteeing anonymity. If possible, avoid all those questions to put respondents at ease and build trust. Then go over your questions one more time. Make sure they are simple to read, understand, and answer. Check for any questions that may cause discomfort from respondents. 

One of the easiest ways to collect anonymous survey answers is to add an anonymous survey link. To ensure that the survey is anonymous, choose only one link per survey. To create the link:

  1. Navigate to the Distribute page of your survey.

  2. Click on Anonymous Link.

  3. From here, you can copy the link and place it in an email or website.  

The anonymous email collector

You can use this for employee surveys and others where you can upload a list of respondents and email invitations to participate in the survey. This works only if you have access to email addresses. The system will not tell you who completed the survey but will automatically track and send reminders to those who did not.

You must only use one anonymous email collector per survey. The process is as follows:

  1. Navigate to the Distribute page of your survey.

  2. Click on Anonymous Email Message.

  3.  Send to a chosen sample.

Anonymous survey examples

Example 1: When introducing a new medication specific to a particular demographic with sensitive medical information

You may ask respondents about their symptoms, pricing, or problems with prior treatment. By gauging the responses, you may be able to tell if your product is viable without respondents giving up sensitive medical information.

Example 2: When employee morale is low

By offering an anonymous survey on workplace morale, employees may be able to answer without fear of reprisal.


What is the difference between a confidential and an anonymous survey? 

An anonymous survey is one where the identity of the survey respondent is not known to anyone, including the people conducting the survey. A confidential survey is when the respondent's identity is known to the survey administrator, but the identity is protected from all others.

What are the limitations of anonymous surveys?

The major limitation of anonymous surveys is that if an issue is addressed, it is impossible to follow up with the participant.

Do anonymous surveys track your IP address?

A survey using an anonymous link will not collect a respondent's name or email address but will collect IP address and location information.

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