There are a variety of reasons why respondents start a survey but do not complete it. Below, we address several concepts to keep in mind when designing a survey that will lead to a greater likelihood of survey completion.
Flawed Survey Design is the most obvious reason why a respondent would begin a survey but not finish it. To avoid this pitfall, begin the survey with easy-to-answer questions to engage the respondent. Be systematic when designing the question order. Ask all questions pertaining to one topic in one section of the survey. Always include questions about demographic information at the end. Questions that may cause respondents to leave the survey (such as those related to ethnicity or income) should be listed at the very end of the survey.
Using new online survey question design techniques such as drag and drop formats, scale sliders, and questions with images is another way to enhance a survey’s appearance and hopefully increase the respondent’s level of engagement.
When deploying a survey on a less engaging topic, add an incentive for respondents who complete the survey.
Survey Length is another potential roadblock to questionnaire completion. When designing surveys, strive to keep them to about 10 minutes in length, or about 20-30 questions. Studies have shown completion rates significantly drop when surveys exceed these benchmarks. For longer surveys, consider using “distributive branching” if you have access to large pool of respondents. This technique allows one half of respondents to answer one set of selected questions and the other half to answer a second set of questions. Keep in mind, however, that this technique will limit your survey sample size for questions falling in either of the two survey branches.
Question Type is another area deserving of attention when creating a survey instrument. A survey’s objectives will (and should) typically drive the specific type of questions utilized. However, in general, too many open-ended questions and/or long matrix questions will lead to higher respondent dropout rates. If a survey calls for the use of many open-ended questions, consider making these questions optional. Also, you may want to break up long matrix questions into smaller question batches, or utilize drag-and-drop or other similar formats that are more engaging for the respondent.
When designing and launching surveys, keep a close eye on completion rates. Pay special attention to questions that trigger unusually high respondent dropout rates. Understand why respondents are leaving the survey at that point, and avoid taking the same approach in the future.