Online Technology for Research & Insight

Research Blog 12 October 2016

How to combat survey fatigue among respondents

We’ve all been there. You start filling in a survey with good intentions and then encounter a series of time consuming questions. You think I really don’t have time for this and end up abandoning the survey. Don’t let that happen to the surveys you create. Here we offer some tips on combatting fatigue among respondents to get the best possible response.

  • Keep it brief and focussed: The most obvious fatigue inducing factor is a long survey with pages and pages of questions. In this day and age of time poor respondents and low concentration levels, long surveys generally spell poor response unless you are blessed with a highly engaged sample. Think about your respondents and tailor your survey accordingly. Be selective with the questions you ask and try to shorten your survey as much as possible.
  • Test it for the time it takes: It can be helpful to time how long it takes to complete your survey. We recommend a survey length of no more than 10 minutes in general as anything above this will have a measurable fall-off in response. However, there are exceptions to the rule depending on your audience and nature of the survey, so a judgement call will be required.
  • Break it into bitesize chunks: In order to make your survey more appealing, split the content into bitesize chunks – we suggest 2-3 questions per page. Having a few questions on a single theme per page will help them focus on the topic. If you have long matrix questions in your survey, one per page is advisable. Being confronted with one long page of questions forcing you to continuously scroll down the page will test even your most loyal respondents.
  • Include a progress bar: To help respondents know how long your survey is, it is also a good idea to add a Progress bar to your survey. Within Demographix you have two options – a graphic (e.g. 75%) or text (e.g. page 3 of 10). This will help respondents navigate the survey without the uncertainty of knowing how much more is left.
  • Show them only what’s relevant to them: Another way to keep the survey length to a minimum is by routing respondents depending on their answers. This allows some respondents to skip questions that are not relevant to them, therefore tailoring their experience. It can get very frustrating to be asked a series of questions on topics you have no opinion on or experience of (e.g. your views on Aldi when you’ve never shopped there) and will inevitably lead to dilution of your data.
  • Vary the question types for interest: The type of questions you use in your survey will also impact on the levels of survey fatigue respondents will feel. As a rule of thumb, try to mix up question types so the survey doesn’t become one dimensional and repetitive. Similarly, try to use a mix of straightforward tick box questions and more interactive question types such as Card Sort, Image Hotspots or Sliders to maintain interest.
  • Minimise matrix questions: Long matrix questions can be particularly fatigue-inducing, especially if there are several pages of them. Try to break up a long matrix question into several smaller ones, grouped by theme and spread them around your survey if possible.
  • Remember write-ins can take up time: Lots of write-in (verbatim) questions can slow respondents down as they require more time and thought. Whilst they are a great way of gathering qualitative data, use them sparingly to get the best quality feedback on the topics you really care about.
  • Don’t make everything compulsory: As tempting as it is to make all your survey questions compulsory – don’t! A series of compulsory questions can lead to high frustration levels, especially if they are not relevant to the respondent and will result in drop out. Better to make only the really important questions compulsory and trust that respondents will answer all or most of the questions anyway. If they are sufficiently engaged with the survey, they will do just that.
  • Don’t over contact panel members: If your research is panel based and you are sending regular emails out to your lists, beware of over-contacting them. If panellists are asked to contribute too often, without clearly defined benefits, they will unsubscribe from your list and may be lost to you forever. You could consider sending out email invites to subsets of lists to avoid this issue or simply increase the time interval between emails you send.

To summarise, make your survey experience as user friendly as possible using all of the tips above. This should minimise the drop-out rate significantly and leave you with robust data from engaged respondents.