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Less is More: Lessons in Survey Methodology

Less is More: Lessons in Survey Methodology

If one pair of pants keeps you warm, then why not wear seven pairs? If asking someone about her day makes her smile, how about asking her twelve different times in twelve different ways? If people like seeing one photo album of your vacation, they’ll like it even more if you show them five albums!

You see, sometimes less is more. One pair of pants really does get the job done, and a single polite inquiry about someone’s day is almost always sufficient.

Surveys are the same way.

Sure, surveys are a rather one-sided conversation where one person does all of the asking and the other all the answering—but they are still a conversation. Ask your respondents too many questions, and they’ll get irritated just like they would in real life. Especially if the questions are repetitive. Or long. Or overly complicated.

Not quite convinced? Let’s take a look at data from SurveyMonkey Contribute, our dedicated pool of survey takers who fill out surveys for charity. (Interested in joining? Sign up!) The methodology team here at SurveyMonkey examined ALL of the surveys that our Contribute members filled out and found that the more questions a survey has, the LOWER the completion rate. For each extra 35 questions, the completion rate (the percentage of SurveyMonkey Contribute members who take the survey) goes down by a whole percentage point!

survey methodology

You may be thinking there are ways around this problem. For one, why not put in tons of page breaks to make your survey look, and seem, shorter? That’s not going to work, though. Page breaks, contrary to their name, don’t actually give respondents a break. We found that it’s not the number of pages that’s important – it’s the number of questions that matters most.

So, you may be asking, why not use matrices to cram all those little questions into one big mega-question so that it looks shorter? No help there, either. Not only do matrix grids change the responses you get, they can be so off-putting that people quit the survey rather than complete them!

So no, unfortunately there’s no working around the fact that too many questions make people cranky. Thankfully, the solution is simple: ask fewer questions! Think of it like spring cleaning… Throw away the broken blender you only used once to make homemade silly putty and all those questions you don’t really need—and only keep what is essential. When you ask only the questions that are necessary, you’ve made respondents happier, your response quality better, and your data easier to analyze.

So go on, ask anything you want! But remember. Less is more.

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