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With Surveys, Shorter Is Not Always Sweeter

4 min read
With Surveys, Shorter Is Not Always Sweeter

You’ve probably had it drilled into you for years. People don’t respond as well to long surveys anymore. You’ve heard it time and time again – it is the first rule of surveys. Isn’t it?

Indeed, there’s a strong case for using shorter surveys. 

But there is a time and a place for longer surveys.

Sometimes, in order to make the most educated decision possible, a more detailed survey is required. Sometimes you have a strong relationship with the respondents, and you know that they are willing to participate in longer, more complex studies or answer more numerous questions.

There are times when you can get away with sending out a longer survey.

Longer Surveys: Removing the Objections

Research shows that the longer a survey, the lower the response rate, the higher the abandonment rate and the more likely the data will be diluted by ‘satisficing’, when respondents select answer options without thinking, just to get the survey over with.

To be clear, the length of a survey isn’t measured by the number of questions, but rather the length of time it takes to complete it. It makes sense that in today’s short-attention-span world, the more time it takes to fill out a survey, the more respondents stop paying attention and drop out.

But the number of questions does have an impact on survey participation. Research shows that the more questions there are, the less time respondents spend answering each question. Average time spent per question declines with each added question, and for surveys longer than 30 questions, the time spent per question nearly halves when compared to surveys with fewer than 30 questions.

Your Respondent Relationship Impacts Your Success

Relationships matter when you’re considering the length of your survey. The stronger your relationship to the respondent, or the stronger the relationship between the scope of the survey and the respondent, the longer the respondent will stay engaged with the survey.

If your company has a strong relationship with the respondent— for example, the respondent is internal to the company or is a very loyal customer — there is an increased likelihood that they are willing to participate in a longer survey.

If the respondent has extensive knowledge about the main topic of your survey, the more interested they will be and the more likely they will be to fill in a longer survey.

If you’re sending out a survey to a generalized audience with a low likelihood of familiarity with your topic, a long survey is probably nota great idea.

Surveys With More Focused Objectives Can Be Lengthier

You should always have a clear purpose in mind when creating and sending out any kind of survey. This will help you focus your questions on the right topics and avoid wasting your, and your respondents’, time.

Focused, well-written surveys flow better and are easier for the respondent to fill out. They also make your objective clearer to the respondent.

When a respondent can identify the purpose of the survey, they can tell how useful the information they are providing will be to the company. This helps maintain their interest and give them a sense of ownership over the results of the survey — and both are key to getting better results from longer surveys.

How much time does a long survey take?

Some sources say 20 minutes is considered a long time to complete a survey. Others say 10 minutes should be the most time you ask from a survey respondent. But certain groups of respondents, such as those in technical fields, are known to have even less tolerance for lengthy surveys, and experts say five minutes is all you should ask of them.

The answer to “how much time is too much?” can only be answered by knowing whom you’re surveying. A CEO won’t have as much time for along survey as a college student might, for example.

No Matter the Length, Be Up-Front About the Time

No matter if you’re creating a five or a 30 minute survey, be honest and upfront about how much time you’re asking the respondent to use to fill it out.

Take the survey yourself, filling it out at a reasonable pace, and time it. Then let respondents know in advance how long the survey will take. You can give them this information in the email invitation or the survey introduction page — wherever it makes the most sense in your process. Then respondents can plan to set that time aside to complete the survey. This should help improve your survey completion rates for longer surveys.


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