Top 2017 New Year’s Resolutions Text Analyzed (In Their Own Words)
Will it Unstructure? Part I of a New Series of Text Analytics Tests
Happy New Year!
As I was preparing to celebrate the New Year with my family and pondering the year ahead, my mind wandered to all of those Top New Year’s Resolutions lists that you see the last week in December every year. It seems to me that the same resolutions with very similar incidence populate those lists each year, usually with something around diet and/or exercise as the most popular resolution.
After spending several minutes investigating, it occurred to me that these lists are almost always compiled using quantitative instruments with static choice answers pre-defined by researchers—therefore limited in options and often biased.
Here’s a good example of a study that has been repeated now for a few years by online financial institution GOBankingRates.com.
While their 2017 survey was focused solely on financial resolutions, their 2016 survey was broader and determined that “Live Life to The Fullest” was the most popular resolution (45.7%), followed by “Live a Healthier life” (41.1%) etc. [see chart below].
The question I had, of course, was what would this look like if you didn’t force people to pick from a handful of arbitrary, pre-defined choices?
Will It Unstructure?
You may be familiar with the outlandish but wildly popular “Will it Blend?” video series by Blendtec, where founder Tom Dickson attempts to blend everything from iPhones to marbles. It’s a wacky, yet compelling way to demonstrate how sturdy these blenders are!
Well, today I’m announcing a new series of experiments that we’re calling “Will it Unstructure?”
The idea here is to take structured questions from surveys, polls and so forth we come across and ask: Will it Unstructure? In other words, will asking the same question in an open-ended fashion yield the same or different results?
(In the future, we’ll cover more of these. Please send us suggestions for structured questions you’d like us to test!)
Will New Year’s Resolutions Unstructure? A Text Analytics PollTM
So, back to those Top New Year’s Resolution lists. Let’s find out: Will it Unstructure?
Over New Year’s weekend we surveyed n=1,536 respondents*, asking them the same question that was asked in the GoBankingRates.com example I referenced earlier: “What are your 2017 resolutions?”
*Representative online general population sample sourced via Google Surveys.
Below is a table of the text comments quickly analyzed by OdinText.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to be learned when you allow people to respond unaided and in their own words. In fact, we see a very different picture of what really matters to people in the coming year.
Note: The GoBankingRates.com survey allowed people to select more than one answer.
Predictably, Health (Diet and/or Exercise) came in first, but with a staggeringly lower incidence of mentions compared to the percent of respondents who selected it on the GoBankingRates.com survey: 19.4% vs. 80.7%.
Moreover, we found that ALL of the top resolution categories in the GoBankingRates.com example actually appeared DRAMATICALLY less frequently when respondents were given the opportunity to answer the same question unaided and in their own words:
- “Living life to the fullest” = 1.1% vs. 45.7%
- Financial Improvement (make/save more and/or cut debt) = 2.9% vs. 57.6%
- Spend more time with family/friends = 0.2% vs. 33.2%
Furthermore, the second most-mentioned resolution in our study didn’t even appear in the GoBankingRates.com example!
What we’ll call “Spirituality” here—a mix of sentiments around being kinder to others, staying positive, and finding inner peace—appeared in 8.3% of responses, eclipsing each of the top resolutions from the GoBankingRates.com example except diet/exercise.
After that we see a wide variety of equally often mentioned and sometimes contradictory resolutions. Now, bear in mind that some of these responses—“Drink more alcohol,” for example—were probably made tongue-in-cheek. Interestingly, even in those cases, more than one person said the same thing, which suggests it may mean something more. (I.e., could this have been filed under “Have Fun/Live Life to the Fullest”?)
These replies are all low incidence, sure, but they certainly provide a fuller picture. For instance, who would’ve predicted that “getting a driver’s license/permit” or “getting married” would be a New Year’s resolution? I would add that among these low incidence mentions, a text analysis a way to understand the relative differences in frequency between various answers.
Disturbingly, 0.3% (five people) said their 2017 resolution is to die. Whether or not these responses were in jest or serious is debatable. Our figure is coincidentally not so far off from estimates from reputable sources with expertise on the subject. For example, according to Emory University, in the past year approx. 1.0% of the U.S. population (2.3 million people) developed a suicide plan and 0.5% (1 million people) attempted suicide.
All of this said, obviously the GoBankingRate.com survey was not a scientific instrument. We selected it at random from a lot of similar “Top New Year’s Resolutions” surveys available.
These results are all, of course, relatively subject to interpretation and we can debate them on a number of fronts, but at the end of the day it’s unmistakably clear that a quantitative instrument with a finite set of choices tells an entirely different story than people do when they have the opportunity to respond unaided and in their own words.
Bonus: Top Three Most Important Events of 2016
Since the whole New Year’s resolutions topic is a little overdone, I ran an additional question just for fun: “Name the Three Most Important Things That Happened in 2016.”
Here are the results from OdinText ranked in order of occurrence in 2016..
If I had to answer this question myself I would probably say Donald Trump winning the U.S. Presidential Election, Russian aggression/hacking and Brexit.
But, again, not everyone places the same weight on events. So here’s yet another example of how much more we can learn when we ask people to reply unaided, in their own words.
Thanks for reading!
REMINDER: Let me know what questions you would like us to use for future posts on the “Will it Unstructure?” series!
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy new year!
Tom H. C. Anderson
OdinText is a patented SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform for advanced analytics. Fortune 500 companies such as Disney and Shell Oil use OdinText to mine insights from complex, unstructured text data. The technology is available through the venture-backed Stamford, CT firm of the same name founded by CEO Tom H. C. Anderson, a recognized authority and pioneer in the field of text analytics with more than two decades of experience in market research. Anderson is the recipient of numerous awards for innovation from industry associations such as ESOMAR, CASRO, the ARF and the American Marketing Association. He tweets under the handle @tomhcanderson.