Tips in Managing a Long Survey

One of the main reasons people don’t complete surveys is because they are too long and complicated. A long and complicated survey is like torture to potential respondents; it’s simply demotivating. If that’s what you’re aiming for, then go ahead and launch that survey. But I certainly don’t think that is anyone’s goal in creating their survey. So, if you’re struggling with a lengthy survey check out these tips and see how they can help you. 

Turn that Catastrophic Long and Complicated Survey into an Ideal Short and Clean Mail Survey

A long survey is an instant no-no for most respondents unless, of course, you are providing a significant incentive. And those respondents that do continue to answer a long survey, well, a study has found that after 15-20 minutes of answering survey questions, data quality is reduced by more than 10%. In short, a long survey can result in a reduction in response rate or data quality. To avoid this scenario, keep your survey length to no more than 15 minutes. Below are some tips to use when a long survey challenges you:

1. Categorize Questions into Crucial, Beneficial, and Expendable

Tips in Managing a Long Survey

Categorize your questions in relation to their necessity in answering the research goals and objectives:  Crucial, Beneficial, and Expendable questions. Crucial questions stay, and expendable questions are eliminated. In the middle are beneficial questions that assist in understanding the problem, but are not necessary for answering the objective and goals. They are temporarily removed and returned only when some room is left after all crucial questions have been listed. After the purging, the next step is to check the analysis of the survey, with and without the excluded questions.  This step is vital to determine if there will be a significant difference in the analysis after the changes. 

Moreover, think about adding the questions that were removed on a follow-up survey. A follow-up survey can be done through the same survey distribution method or something more convenient to the respondents, for example, online.

2. Multiple Survey Versions for Respondents

Tips in Managing a Long Survey


A second solution would be to create multiple versions of the survey. Let’s say you have 50 items on pharma products. You have 20 questions for your core questionnaire, and the remaining 30 questions are for three different products (10 questions each). Hence, you can create three versions of the questionnaire for each product. Each respondent will get the core questions and the questions for a single product. Consequently, you get data for all three products.  

Things to consider in creating multiple versions of the survey:

  1. Which respondent gets what survey should be picked randomly to avoid bias.
  2. Make sure that you have enough samples to ensure that you get enough responses for each version.

3. Utilize Background Variables

Tips in Managing a Long Survey


  • Don’t ask about things you already know and instead use it to your advantage. These are called “background variables”. When possible, it is best to filter your respondents with these variables. You don’t want to turn off respondents from answering a survey due to length when 20% of the questions don’t even apply to them. For example, you have a questionnaire where you want to determine the impact of medication to patients over 40, and 10% of the questions are only for patients who have done a particular treatment. If you have the list of the respondents who have had the treatment beforehand, you can provide the core questionnaire to all respondents and only offer the additional questions to the respondents who have had the treatment. This simple method can reduce survey rejection, as well as printing costs. You can also use the information you already have to personalize your materials (e.g., invite, cover letter, or survey).
  • Screen the answer list. If possible, respondents should only have response options applicable to them. For example, don’t provide feedback choices on the complete product list but only services applicable to the potential respondent.


A Checklist in Keeping your Mail Survey Clean and Simple

Tips in Managing a Long Survey


Keeping your survey clean and simple is crucial for respondents to comprehend questions and answer them accurately. If the survey questions are confusing, then the answers of the respondents may become distorted; hence, the research is compromised. To help you out, below is a Checklist in Keeping your Survey Clean and Simple: 

  1. Make sure the instructions are clear and accurate. Don’t make assumptions that the respondents already know what to do. Give examples.
  2. Avoid technical terms that will confuse your respondents. The language used should reflect how respondents think and talk regarding the subject.
  3. Easier Questions should come first. Place easier questions before the complex ones. Give respondents time to become comfortable answering the survey questions. In doing so, the probability of them answering the complex questions will increase.
  4. Each Question should be focused and intended for a particular feedback
    • Don’t use double-barrel questions:”
      • “Would you recommend our products and services to your friends?”
      • Instead, separate them into two questions:
        • “Would you recommend our products to your friends?”
        • “Would you recommend our services to your friends?”
        • These will provide an equal focus on both subjects.
  5.  Keep Questions precise. Actual numbers should be used. Avoid general response choices like “sometimes” and “rarely” in the survey form
    • For example: “less than 2 times per day”
  6.  Proofread the Survey. Check the survey for improper words, grammatical errors, and incorrect spelling. Mistakes such as this show unprofessionalism, and can devalue your survey. After proofreading the survey yourself, have someone else check it. Preferably, someone that is not familiar with your study, this process could flush out confusing terms or directions. You can also use special apps online, such as Grammarly proofreader.
  7. Test your Survey. Testing is a necessity despite how good you think your survey design and proofreading skills are. This is your last opportunity to fix errors before they become a big problem for your study.

There you have it. Effective Tips on How to Keep Your Mail Survey Short and Clean. And while they will certainly help improve your response rates, there are still other elements you might want to consider for a successful Mail Survey Project. Check out our Mail Survey Spec Sheet that will help you document the list size, number of mailings, type and quantity of materials that will be needed, budget and requirements for each mailing. This spreadsheet will help organize and calculate the materials across your mailings. Download the Spec Sheet here!

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DataForce works with you to design forms that are ideal for obtaining the data you need. Our survey designers specialize in creating professional forms that are both functional and visually appealing and generate high response rates and impeccable results. We provide outstanding Survey Research Services and Survey Mailing Services.  Contact us now so we can help in the success of your Survey Project.

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