5 Ways Your Survey Tool Can Help to Shorten Your Questionnaire

Author Bio

Author Bio

Survey design tools for shortening your questionnaire

I originally planned to do this as a New Year’s resolution blog post, encouraging us all to make it an ambition this year to make the surveys we field shorter.

Well, I had a pretty tight schedule around the Christmas and New Year, so ended up disappointing Carolyn, the editor of our blog, by never delivering the posts I promised before Christmas. So it is probably too late for New Year’s resolutions now, but still I would like to encourage every survey professional to do some thinking this year about how you can reduce the length of the surveys you send out.

There are numerous papers and articles on this subject, and it is probably one of the most significant things we all can do to influence people’s willingness to partake in surveys, and help improve the public’s view on surveying. Try Googling “questionnaire length” and you’ll find a lot of material, including several blogs with good advice on how to cut questions.

If you are a Confirmit user, you can use Confirmit Survey Designer, to create surveys and leverage a huge range of features to increase response rates, including dozens of innovative question types, multimedia clips, and a powerful array of feedback methods, all designed to engage your audiences and capture the insights you need.



However, in this post, I will focus more on the technical side of it, assuming you’ve trimmed the survey down to a set of questions you must include. These are 5 ways you can take advantage of the capabilities of your survey software to reduce the survey length:


1. Don’t ask about the things you already know

When asking customers for feedback, they shouldn’t have to tell you what services or products they have acquired from you. They know you already have that information. Most survey platforms support some level of integration with external systems, from simple data imports to APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that you can use to integrate your survey platform directly with variables from other databases. In Confirmit we call them “background variables”. These can be used to customize email invitations, control survey logic and can seamlessly be included in the dataset for reporting.

If you run a panel, you have lots of data about the panelists in your panel database. Yet, a panel I subscribe to asks me for gender, age and region in every survey they send me, often several times in the same interaction, because they appear to be reselling sample, and are redirecting me after those initial questions to surveys that ask the same questions again. (#fail!)

2. Don’t ask irrelevant questions

Are there questions in your survey that would be irrelevant for some respondents to answer? Is it possible to determine answers based on responses to previous questions or background variables? It is better to skip those questions than having the respondents answer “Not applicable”. Sometimes it is simple and obvious, like not asking for what kind of retirement plan someone has if she has answered “student” as occupation, but it can also be a combination of answers on previous questions that makes a question irrelevant. You can even set the response for the respondent and skip the question: If someone says they have 2 kids living at home, and you ask how many that are 10 years or younger, it is easy to figure out how many that are older than 10, and have the system set that automatically instead of asking the respondent.

3. Don’t include irrelevant options in the answer list

Filter the answer lists so that only options that are relevant for the respondent are displayed, for example products you know they have purchased instead of your whole product list, or brands they confirmed they know of in a previous question. This can also have all sorts of more complex variations, for example combining things answered on some questions and not answered on other.

4. Don’t force all respondents to answer all questions

If your questionnaire is getting too long (and too long is probably shorter than you think!), consider not asking every single question to every respondent. For example, if you have a long list of brands you want to be evaluated, let each respondent evaluate only a subset. You may need a few more complete responses to get enough responses for all brands, but you will get a better response rate from shortening the survey. Nothing is as demotivating to a respondent as a big grid of brands to evaluate.

There are various techniques you can use to achieve this. Brands can be picked randomly, and if you are worried about skewed results, you can use quotas to ensure you get a good distribution based on key demographics of your respondents. In Confirmit Community Panel you can set up “groups” within samples, which you can use to split the sample into groups that each evaluate one product. The sampling engine will ensure that these groups are composed with the same distribution as you have defined in the sample matrix to prevent results from being skewed because of differences between the groups.

5. Do follow-up surveys

Instead of squeezing every single question into one survey, drop some questions from the survey and create a short follow-up survey instead. Your respondents may be more willing to answer two short surveys than answering one long one. And maybe the second survey is relevant only for a subset of the respondents? This technique does require survey software that either is capable of merging data from two surveys for reporting, or splitting up a survey into two sections that can be taken at different times by the same respondents.