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Survey fatigue: 5 ways to avoid ruining your research

Brand Awareness

What is survey fatigue?

In a nutshell, survey fatigue is a respondent-sided state of exhaustion, e.g. as a result of boredom, indifference or tiredness, toward taking surveys.

Survey fatigue is an omnipresent issue nowadays. Due to a vast global digitisation and virtually, 24-hour reachability of people on their mobile devices, organisations and other institutions have been increasingly leveraging this opportunity to retrieve feedback data via online surveys.

Types of survey fatigue

There is widespread consensus across the web that survey fatigue can be subdivided into two types depending on when this state of fatigue is triggered.
  • Survey responding fatigue: this type of survey fatigue sets in before a potential respondent can even start taking a survey. The overwhelming number of survey invitations or frequency of survey reminders lead to a decline in attitude toward taking surveys.

  • Survey taking fatigue: this type of survey fatigue occurs while a respondent is in the midst of taking a survey. If a survey takes too much time and/or survey questions are complex and incomprehensible, the same decline in attitude toward continuing and completing a survey will be the result.

Hence, survey fatigue will leave you either with no survey data or low-quality survey data to work with and therefore poses a giant risk to your research.

Reasons for survey fatigue

There are numerous reasons which can lead to the aforementioned types of survey fatigue, some of which were already mentioned alongside the survey fatigue type distinction. The following list of causes keep recurring in discussions and publications on survey fatigue.
  1. Surveys are too long: if participating in a survey takes up too much time or consists of too many questions, people will lose interest as their time is a precious resource.

  2. Questions are too long and complex: in line with the first reason, long and complex questions will require more concentration from the respondent and make it harder to understand how to proceed, thus resulting in the survey taking too long to complete. This will drastically increase bounce rates.

  3. Frequency of survey invitation/reminder is too high: receiving too many survey invitations at once or receiving very frequent survey reminders can be overwhelming and frustrating for the recipient. Response rates will drop as a result of this emotional state.

  4. Questions are too sensitive in nature: especially applicable to personal and demographic questions. Respondents may feel restricted in their privacy and take flight.

  5. Questions have little or no relevance to respondent: if a survey is not targeting the right audience, its topic will lack in relevance to the actual respondents and evoke boredom.

Nevertheless, there are ways and best practices of ensuring that survey fatigue can be avoided or at least minimised.

Measures for tackling survey fatigue

  1. Keep your survey lean. Most people will avoid taking a survey that’s longer than 5 – 10 minutes as well as more than 10 questions long. Manage to keep your survey short to not lose your respondent’s focus. A good way of checking the length of your survey is to have someone else test it beforehand and time it.

  2. Create questions in simple language. Keep questions nice and short, avoid confusing or misleading question content and abandon any double negatives or other ambiguous phrasings. Have somebody revise the wording of your questions to make sure they are intelligible.

  3. Find the invitation sweet spot. Test the moment of your invitation and frequency of your reminder emails to find the ideal balance of getting people to take your survey. In most cases, this is a matter of trial and error.

  4. Know the privacy boundaries. Retrieving good and plenty of data is nice and all, but you need to make sure not to cross your respondent’s personal boundaries when it comes to sensitive questions. Preferably, have somebody check that the nature of your questions is appropriate to ask your respondents.

  5. Ask the right questions. If you’re targeting a specific audience with interests that ought to match the topic of your survey, make sure to stick to the point and not run off track. If you’re mixing your survey (sub-)topics, rather split them into different surveys to get the best possible data from your respondents. If you’re not targeting a specific audience, it can quickly happen that your survey topic becomes irrelevant to your respondents. Offering certain incentives can help react to this issue. However, incentives must always be chosen with caution.

Advanced tip: implement a question asking for permission to get in touch with your respondents to discuss anything that was unclear and get feedback on the feedback. As this is a voluntary declaration of consent, you have nothing to lose.

To sum up, you can narrow down your efforts to avoid respondent survey fatigue by paying attention to these four keywords: Time, Relevance, Appropriateness, Comprehensibility, that’s all.

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