In conducting research, being partial can lead to faulty conclusions. This tendency is conveniently called researcher bias.
How can a researcher avoid committing this blunder? This article explains what researcher bias is and suggests ways on how to reduce it.
One of the essential considerations in research involving people’s responses (i.e., social research) is to reduce or eliminate researcher bias. If a researcher investigates in a biased manner, the research outcome becomes inaccurate and unreliable.
Suppose the results of a study are unreliable, inaccurate, or invalid. In that case, questions will arise on many fronts, and doubts regarding the study’s conclusions will compromise its publication in a refereed journal. In businesses, decision-making based on the study results and conclusions will be faulty, thus leading to profit loss or inability to solve organizational or operational problems. Researcher bias can distort the truth.
But what causes bias, and how can you, as a researcher, avoid it?
Definition of Bias
A relevant definition of bias in the Bing dictionary states thus: “bias is an unfair preference for or dislike of something.” In the research context, this means that the researcher does something that favors or skews towards a specific direction. The researcher may deliberately or inadvertently commit it.
Five Causes of Researcher Bias and Suggested Solutions
While it will be difficult to eliminate all sources of researcher bias in the conduct of your research, being aware of the following common pitfalls in the practice of research is desirable:
1. Personal convenience in data collection
Many of those who conduct research fail to do good research because they want to do it conveniently. For example, instead of getting a random sample of respondents, he may interview anyone that gets in his way. This approach is not an objective way of getting a sound model from a given population of the study.
- Ask yourself the question: “Am I doing this part of the research for my convenience?” If you are, then recognize that this will introduce bias and reduce research quality.
- Select respondents randomly.
2. Favoring your own stand
While the nature of your research may be argumentative, favoring a preconceived position on the subject you are investigating will cause bias in your results. You will tend to steer the results of your study in the direction that you want.
- Stick to what your data shows.
- Do not manipulate the results.
3. Inadequately prepared questionnaires
Inadequately prepared questionnaires can lead to many biases in the results of your study. Make sure that you follow acceptable practices in preparing questionnaires.
- Read reliable references on how to prepare questionnaires objectively.
- Once you are ready with your questionnaire, validate it to a non-respondent group.
- Make changes when appropriate.
This situation means that you should take enough time to prepare your questionnaire. It is better to start right than having doubts about your data’s reliability, validity, or accuracy later on.
4. Faulty Data Collection Procedure
Watch out for unreliable answers to the questions that you posed. It is possible that the following occurred during the data collection:
- respondents are agitated, so they answered quickly without pondering the questions
- you asked leading questions or questions that make people choose because you mentioned the choice
- you answered the questionnaire for your Respondent because of your impatience in waiting for the response
- the questions are not stated clearly
- the Respondent has no experience on the subject you are asking about
- other parties were present at the time of the interview that influenced Respondent’s ideas or thoughts
- the questions are too long such that the Respondent gets tired of having to respond to those questions
- respondents fear that their answers may incriminate them
- make sure that the respondents are ready and willing to be interviewed
- don’t provide the choices to the respondents in personal interviews
- be patient in administering questionnaires
- ensure that the questions are clear enough
- evaluate the capability of the respondent in answering the questions
- conduct personal interviews in places, not within the hearing distance of others
- prepare questionnaires that will be finished in a reasonable amount of time (some suggest 30 minutes is excellent)
- explain to your respondent that their answers will not be held against them
5. Unverified Information
Sometimes, researchers rely on just one source of information in making their conclusions. This practice will be full of biases.
Triangulation may be employed to avoid this pitfall. The post titled Data Accuracy, Reliability and Triangulation in Qualitative Research discussed this issue.
The whole point of this discussion is that the researcher should take all precautions against doing things that may impact negatively or threaten data accuracy and reliability. Therefore, a researcher must be neutral and objective-minded in carrying out his study to avoid researcher bias.
© 2013 August 12 P. A. Regoniel