How to Reduce Survey Fatigue and Design a Likely-to-Be-Completed Survey

The average human attention span is eight seconds. When it comes to a marketing survey, keeping the respondent’s attention will be even harder. So you have to think it over how to make the survey easier to perceive to avoid the distortion of data caused by respondent fatigue.

Types of Survey Fatigue

According to researchers, there are four types of fatigue; each of them has a negative impact on data quality.

Excessive Number of Invitations

This type of fatigue comes even before the survey. The thing is, people are often asked for their feedback, which makes them less willing to participate in another survey.

Unclear Purpose of the Survey

When the purpose of the survey is vague, respondents start doubting that their opinion will matter at the invitation stage already. This type of fatigue is common with corporate surveys, when employees can observe the management’s actions following the internal surveys and track changes over a long period of time.

Long and Complicated Survey

This type of fatigue comes during the survey. Most surveys have too many questions, and they are not quite related to what the person cares about in their daily life. The respondent is not motivated enough to stay focused for more than 15 minutes. As a result, they are less careful with their answers, and may abandon the survey altogether.

Redundant Questions

Surveys often include redundant questions, with the answers partially or fully overlapping with the previous ones. You can see this issue mostly in statement lists and semantic differential scales. It makes the respondents feel like they are going round in circles answering the same questions over and over again.

Another extreme is extensive questions. For instance, when the researcher asks respondents to rate how much they agree with 10–15 statements on a scale from 1 to 5. For this type of questions, the non-response rate might be higher than the survey average.

Statistical Indicators of Problematic Questions That Cause Respondent Fatigue

Share of Respondents That Have Abandoned the Survey

Normally, the share of respondents that quit survey doesn’t exceed 1% for each question. If this indicator surpasses 3%, it’s a warning sign that, perhaps, the question is too lengthy or boring, which makes respondents lose interest in it.

Standard Responses

Another potential fatigue indicator is trivial, “canned” responses, when respondent keeps choosing the same or random answer option. To detect respondents that answer mechanically, researchers can include trick questions or control questions in the survey.

Reduced Response Time

Another thing indicating the loss of interest in the survey is the average question response time. Usually, the further the respondent is in the survey, the faster they answer each new question. As a rule, it takes a respondent at least 2 seconds to go through each row in a Matrix question, and 0.5 seconds for each hint in a multiple-choice question. If these indicators are below the threshold values, it’s a sign that you need to re-structure the question.

How to Build a Survey to Minimize Respondent Fatigue

Survey Design

When putting together a survey, the temptation is to add more questions to get as much data as possible. Don’t give in! The more questions, the higher the risk that the respondent will abandon the survey halfway through.

The first question is really important as it shapes the respondent’s attitude toward the survey. Make it as simple and clear as possible to establish contact and ease the respondents into the survey.

Question complexity should increase gradually so that the respondents have time to adapt to the cognitive load. In the middle of the survey, you can mix simple and difficult questions. It’s best to keep the end of the survey simple, since respondents are likely to be tired by that point.

Put the most important questions earlier in the survey to improve the chances that respondents spend more time on the questions critical for the research.

The core part of the survey should start with questions applicable to all respondents and not just some select groups. The questions should be placed in the following order: questions about knowledge and awareness, experience, motives and relationships, and, finally, intentions.

Try to combine questions into clusters by their type: closed-ended, partially closed-ended, and open-ended. It will reduce the respondent’s efforts on switching between different types of questions.

      • A closed-ended question gives a set of pre-defined answer options.
      • A partially closed question offers an “Other” response along with the choices defined by the researcher so the respondent can put their own answer.
      • An open-ended question has a field to answer in open text format.

As open-ended questions require more efforts from the respondent, they are better to be put in the middle of the survey to gradually build up the complexity of the questions.

It’s better to put a set of demographic questions (gender, age, marital status) at the end of the survey. These are easy-to-answer questions, but their placement at the start of the survey can make respondents uncomfortable.

Phrasing the Questions

Try to phrase questions as simply and clearly as possible. Do not use special jargon or academic terms. When designing survey questions, keep respondents of the lowest level of culture in mind.

Do not use abbreviations or acronyms, as they might be interpreted incorrectly or stand for different things.

The wording of questions should be specific and exact. Do not use clichés and abstract words (“many”, “few”, “often”, “rarely”, “normally”). Do not ask several questions in one. The questions should be unambiguous to prevent different interpretations.

Try to keep the questions short. If you want to give respondents some context or clues, include a preamble to the question.

Explain how to answer the question marked by an asterisk: give an example of a response to an open-ended question, or specify the number of possible responses to a multiple-choice question.

Phrasing the Hints to the Questions

You should cover all possible answers to a question, but their number should be reasonable. It’s important to strike a balance between giving respondents enough relevant options to choose from and keeping the hint list not too long.

When listing hints, keep in mind that people tend to choose the first option more often than others. Inclination towards the first replies can also indicate survey fatigue. Enable Answer Randomization to minimize data distortion.

In case of evaluative questions, hints should be well-balanced: two hints pro and two hints against. For example, “very good”, “good”, “neither good nor bad”, “bad”, “very bad”. Uniformity of scales helps their perception and reduces respondent fatigue.

Hints should also be homogeneous: of roughly the same length, with the same level of detail, and based on the same characteristic.

Intervals of values in hints should not overlap. Make sure that each hint is unique and does not incorporate values of neighboring hints.

The “Do not know / No answer” option is a sign of respect towards respondents and leaves them room to refrain from answering. If too many respondents choose this option, it can mean that the survey is too long and causes fatigue.

How to Reduce Survey Fatigue Using PeakPoll Survey Builder Tools

Place a Text with Survey Invitation on the Welcome Page

Explain to the respondents the purpose of the survey and how its results will influence their product experience. When respondents understand the value of the research and their contribution, they are more likely to handle the survey in a more serious way.

On your welcome page, share the following:

      • why you are doing the survey;
      • how the survey results will affect client experience;
      • how long it will take;
      • how you will use the collected data;
      • what reward (if any) the respondents will receive for participating.

Hide Irrelevant Questions

Set up conditional branching to skip non-applicable questions. Use Logic rules and Display rules to specify the conditions a question or a question cluster will be shown to a respondent. This will help shorten the survey for certain respondent groups and decrease their fatigue.

For instance, when surveying café visitors, you can add a branching question: “Do you have children under 13?”. Then you can ask those who have responded “yes” about the kids menu, while the rest will skip to the next cluster of questions.

You can also tweak question display logic based on additional parameters in the link to the survey (for example, based on a fragment in the link the respondent used to open the survey). For example, if the user has clicked the form on Return Policy page, among other things, ask about product quality, correspondence of the product to its description on a website, and reliable packaging.

Set Automatic Insertion of Previously Selected Answers in the Subsequent Questions

Suppose you want to know what people in your neighborhood think about the offering and the quality of service in local coffee shops. You can first ask the respondents to choose from the list of places they have visited at least 2–3 times over the past 3–6 months. Then, having a corresponding setting on, you can ask them to rate the answer options from the previous question on a scale from 1 to 10. This way you reduce the number of objects to be assessed and avoid dead-end situations where respondents have to rate a place they’ve never been to.

You can also set up insertion of selected answer options into the text of subsequent questions. For instance, you want to know what the clients value in your competitors. To learn that, you can ask respondents what coffee shop they visit most often. Then, you ask them to name 3 things they like the most about coffee shop X (where X stands for the answer option selected in the previous question).

Upload Media Files

Include media content: images, audio, video. Media content sparks more interest than plain text and helps to present information more efficiently. With PeakPoll survey builder, you can replace scale points with a color gradient, stars, emojis or custom images. Graphic scale elements help its perception and reduce respondent fatigue.

Add a Promo Code to the Finish Page

If you’ve put together a complicated and long survey, offer the respondent a bonus for completing it. It can be digital content (e-book, recorded webinar), a discount, or an additional service when buying products. As long as the bonus is interesting for your target audience.

Before they get to the survey, let the respondent know that everyone who completes it properly will get a gift. Don’t forget to put a universal promo code on the finish page or upload a list of personal promo codes to the survey. The displayed promo codes will be shown in the survey results to each respondent.

Set to Display Random Subsampling of Specified Size from the Full List of Answer Options

Perception and comparison of 10–15 options can be cognitively challenging. If you need the respondents to choose the best option from a long list of objects (for instance, jewelry designs), it’s best to enable the display of 3–5 random choices for each respondent. This way you will disperse the cognitive load among all survey participants and get better data.