10 Tips on constructing your online survey

1. Be aware of the reasons why respondents fail to complete online surveys

There are numerous reasons why potential respondents fail to complete online surveys. These range from how well the invitation email has been constructed through to the survey’s content and design. When designing your online survey be aware of the following:

  • Over use of open-ended questions
  • Questions arranged in table format
  • Fancy or graphically complex design
  • Pull-down menus,
  • Unclear instructions
  • Absence of navigation aids

2. Use a welcome screen with details of the survey

This is the first interaction  your potential respondent has with your survey so it needs to be attractive and motivating. The welcome screen needs to emphasise the ease of responding, and shows respondents how to move to the next page. The page should also include details about how the information will be used, whether it’s confidential or will be shared or anonymised. It should include details of the organisation and contact details if the respondent has any queries.

3. The first question is very important

There is evidence that the first question on the screen can have a significant impact on whether the respondent continues to complete the survey or not. So make it’s easy to answer, does not ask for sensitive or embarrassing  information and applies to all your audience. and is not a filtering question.

4. Limit question line length to 20 words

A question comprising about 20 words is good practice. However, it’s not just the number of words but, also the number of concepts the respondent has to keep in mind when answering the question.

5. Use conventional format

Avoid fancy or complex graphics and layout. Also the choice of font colour is important. Keep to a back or grey colour font against a white background which will ensure the screen looks clean and tidy but, also is suitable for respondents who are colour blind.

Redline & Dillman (1999)* defined the term “The language of survey questionnaire design” in which we need to keep in mind three types of design language when constructing our questionnaire. These are:

  • Graphic language – font sizes and variations (bold/italic, boarders and tables
  • Symbolic language – e.g. arrows to guide the respondent through the questionnaire
  • Numeric language – numbering questions and response options

6. Keep to one question per screen

Keep to one question a screen as this enables the respondent to focus on one thing and avoids the respondent having to scroll. Having one question per screen also enables efficient use of instructions and question skip logic.

7. Give an estimated time to complete survey

This does not have to be accurate but, be realistic. When using one question on the screen, the respondent has no way of knowing how long the survey will take. Providing a realistic time prior to the survey is a useful guide for the respondent. Don’t under estimate the time to complete the survey. You will lose your respondents if they are still completing the questionnaire 10 minutes after they should have finished.

8. Insure the survey takes no longer than 20 minutes

A 20 minute survey is about the maximum you can expect respondents to adhere to before survey fatigue sets in. Building in the ability to save the survey at anytime and return later to complete will help minimise respondents abandoning the survey altogether if the survey is going to take longer.

9. Provide a progress bar

Over the past few years, the progress bar has become an important addition to motivating the respondent to complete the survey. Adding over the bar “you’ve almost completed the survey’ or a percentage count will also add additional feedback.

The progress bar serves to keeping your respondents engaged with your survey. Continually updating the respondent on the distance they have progressed through the questionnaire makes them feel more and more committed to completing the survey. However, progress bars can only be shown with a one question per screen arrangement.

10. Provide motivating cues

In addition to the progress bar, additional statements on the screen that encourage respondents to continue can do no harm in helping the respondent to continue to complete the survey.

Why not link with us and find out more about online survey design. You can also visit www.healthsurveysolutions.com or provide your details below to see how we can help you in the design of of your online survey.

*Cleo D. Redline and Don A. Dillman, 1999. “The Influence of Auxiliary, Symbolic, Numeric, and Verbal Language on Navigational Compliance in Self-administered Questionnaires,” at http://survey.sesrc.wsu.edu/dillman/papers/Auxiliary,Symbolic,Numeric%20paper–with%20Cleo.pdf



Categories: Questionnaire design

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