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Survey Science

Want higher completion rates? Get your first question right

Want higher completion rates? Get your first question right

First impressions matter—not only when you’re meeting new people, but when it comes to  survey writing, too.

Before clicking into your survey, respondents have very little context as to what it’s about or why they’re being asked to take it. That’s why the first question of your survey is so important—it sets the tone for the rest of the survey and lets them know what to expect. A good first question helps you build rapport with your respondents, motivating them to answer the first question and all the ones that follow.

You obviously want to make the best first impression on your respondents, so which type of question should you ask first?

The way you start your survey can have a significant impact on the number of people who complete the whole survey, regardless of how long it is.

Our research shows that multiple choice questions are the best way to start your survey in order to encourage the most people to respond.

To find out, we examined responses to the first questions of surveys on more than 25,000 surveys carried out on SurveyMonkey Audience over the course of two years.

Surveys that start with a multiple choice question have the highest completion rates. As you can see in the chart below, on average they have completion rates that are:

  • More than 5 percentage points higher than surveys that start with an open-ended question
  • Nearly 4 percentage points higher than surveys that start with introductory text or images
  • Nearly 2 percentage points higher than surveys that start with other question types, such as matrix or dropdown questions

Table: Completion Rate by First Question Type

Completion rate table by first question type

Why do multiple choice questions win the race? Research indicates that multiple choice questions are the easiest for respondents to answer.

Other question types require respondents to read a question, process it, and come up with a response. It takes less mental energy to pick a response from a list of answer options.

If a respondent sees that the first question of a survey is easy, he’s more likely to answer it, and more likely to answer every subsequent question as well.

That means you’ll have a higher completion rate on your survey, which allows your population of respondents to become more and more diverse, and in result, more representative.

5 percentage points might not seem like a big difference, but it can make all the difference between results that are representative and those that aren’t.

Now that you know how important your first question is, here are our top tips on how to make sure your survey is really making a great impression.

1.   Embed it in an email

If you’re using a multiple choice question (including Net Promoter® Score) as the first question in your survey, you can use the Email Invitation to embed it in an email. This gives customers the ability to respond with just one click, and it draws them into your survey.

As soon as a respondent clicks an answer option in the email, they’ll be sent to the first page of your survey to continue taking it. That gets one question out of the way before respondents even see the rest of the survey.

2.   Keep the initial questions general, not specific

In general, it’s best to start your survey with more general questions, then move to very specific questions. For example, if you’re a restaurant owner conducting a customer feedback survey, start with a NPS question that asks whether your patrons would recommend your restaurant to others. Then you can move on to questions that ask about the specific things they liked or didn’t like: the food, the service, the atmosphere, etc.

3. Most important questions come first

You probably have one or more questions that are very essential to your survey. Ask those questions first.

As people go through your survey, there will always be a few who drop out entirely or skip questions. SurveyMonkey stores response data every time a respondent clicks onto another page (or clicks the “Done” button). If you ask your most important questions early in the survey, you’re more likely to get more data on those questions.

Whether you’re trying to get a higher completion rate, make the right impression, or engage your respondents, remember—your first question makes all the difference.

Think you’re ready to take a stab at writing a first question? Start your survey today.

NPS, Net Promoter & Net Promoter Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.