Content Skip to content.
San Diego State University

COE Qualtrics User Support

Lesson 5: Personally Identifiable Information - Part 1


When utilizing an anonymous survey to collect data, respondents have the expectation that there will be no means to connect one’s identity to their responses. This lesson focuses on ways to protect the identity of respondents. To this end, the lesson clarifies when it is acceptable to request personally identifiable information and means for protecting the identities of individuals. The lesson will also consider the relationship between this issue and anonymity and confidentiality.

Lesson Objectives

The lesson addresses the following points:
  1. state when requests for personally identifiable information is acceptable
  2. clarify methods for ensure information is protected
  3. explain the relationship between requests for personally identifiable information and anonymity and confidentiality

Lesson Resources

  • Lesson 5: Personally Identifiable Information - Pt. 1
  • Supplemental Online Resources
    1. Protecting confidentiality & anonymity. (2012). Retrieved from
    2. American Association for Public Opinion Research. (n.d.). Irb faqs for survey researchers

Learning Activities

  1. Develop study codes
    1. Review the Protecting Confidentiality and Anonymity website.
    2. Have the students develop a coding system to protect the identity of survey respondents.
    3. In class, have students take the surveys to test the effectiveness of the coding system.
  2. Anonymous or confidential
    1. Distribute samples of surveys prior to class
    2. Ask students to identify whether the surveys are anonymous or confidential.
    3. Have students revise the confidential surveys to make them anonymous.
    4. Assign one confidential survey to each student and have them develop an opening letter explaining to respondents how their identity is being protected.

Reflection/Discussion Topics

  1. Describe cases where it is necessary to use confidential surveys.
  2. What is the biggest risks associate with not protecting the identity of survey respondents?

Additional Resources

Whelan, T. J. (2007). Anonymity and confidentiality: Do survey respondents know the difference? Poster presented at the 30th annual meeting of the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists, Durham,NC.