What is Survey Fatigue? (& How to Prevent It)

What is survey fatigue?

Survey fatigue is where respondents become disengaged with a survey. It is also referred to as ‘Questionnaire Fatigue’, ‘Respondent Fatigue’ or ‘Participant Fatigue’.

There are two types of survey fatigue:

Survey Response Fatigue: This type of fatigue concerns respondents who become disengaged from surveys before they start to complete them. This is due to participants being overloaded with requests and results in lower response rates.

Survey Taking Fatigue: This occurs during the survey-taking process. Respondents become disengaged and begin to provide ‘dishonest’ responses or leave your project altogether. I.e., lower completion rates. Take a look at these survey design best practices to avoid this type of fatigue.

Problems caused by survey fatigue

A few respondents leaving or ignoring your survey may seem like a benign problem, but there are some notable consequences.

Negative Brand Perceptions: Plying your contact list with surveys can damage what they think of your brand or organization. If you need feedback, ask for it sparsely.

Low Data Quality: As motivation and engagement drop, so does the quality of responses. Respondents will attempt to finish your survey quicker and pay less attention to their answers.

Non-Response Bias: The respondents who most want their voices to be heard are less likely to be affected by fatigue. This seems like a positive, as you’re still collecting survey results, but in-fact can lead to data set filled with extreme opinions.

How it manifests in your results

Asides from lower response and completion rates, survey fatigue can cause response bias.

Here are a few examples of these:

  • Speed Runs
  • Straight Lining
  • Non-Differentiation
  • Acquiescence Response Bias
  • Neutral Answer Selection
  • Extreme Responding

Tips for using avoiding survey fatigue

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to eliminate all occurrences of survey fatigue, as some factors are beyond your control. However, these tips will help you reduce its effects.

1. Reduce survey length

Surveys with an excessive number of pages and questions is a big red-flag to respondents.

Make your surveys as short as possible and demonstrate that you value their time and effort.

2. Decrease the time it takes to complete your survey

Although closely linked to survey length, the time it takes to complete your survey is more often the cause of survey length. It is usually determined by whether questions are easy to answer.

The more complicated they are, the longer it will take.

The perfect survey will take no longer than 7 minutes to complete. If it takes longer than this you’re probably demanding too much from respondents.

3. Write better subject lines (for email invitations)

Avoid cliche phrases like “Please Complete this Survey” in the subject line of your survey invitations. Respondents have seen this all before and will only be deterred from responding.

Instead, try something more conversational like ‘Is there something we should know?’. Or go for a personalized subject line, these tend to increase requests for feedback.

4. Don’t send surveys too frequently

There are two things to consider when deciding how often to distribute surveys. Firstly, the number of surveys sent by different departments in your organization. Secondly, how often your competitors do.

Run some tests to determine what frequency results in a higher quantity and quality of responses.

5. Use page logic

Use question logic (sometimes called skip logic) to create personalised paths for respondents. Then, they only answer questions relevant to them and are less likely to disengage.

6. Save demographic questions for the end

Only include questions requesting demographic information where necessary. And don’t place them at the start of your survey.

Many respondents are reluctant to hand over personal information and are more likely to leave if you open with them.

8. Be transparent

By being upfront, you’ll improve your relationship and the quality of responses.

Here’ a few things respondents appreciate being informed on:

  • The purpose of your survey
  • Why they’ve been asked to complete it
  • How long it will take
  • How you intend to use their data
  • Whether their responses are anonymous

You could include this information in an email along with the survey or on a welcome page.

9. Write clear and concise questions

When writing survey questions, you need to ensure they’ can be understood clearly.

You should also keep questions as short as possible, ensuring you’re only asking one thing at a time.

10. Ensure surveys work on mobile devices

There’s no way you can predict what device your respondents will be taking your survey on. So it’s always best to use software that is optimized for mobile devices.

All online surveys, forms and quizzes are mobile-friendly on Shout.

11. Thank respondents

Show appreciation for their time and effort. And if you were collecting feedback, assure them their voice has been heard.

12. Don’t make every question required

Requiring too many questions can lead to a higher non-completion rate or cause response bias.

Tip: Do not make sensitive questions required. Give respondents the choice of whether to provide personal or sensitive information.

Save this feature for the most important questions that contribute the most to your research aims.

13. Avoid sensitive questions (where possible)

There’s a simple rule to remember here; if you don’t need the data, don’t ask the question.

It’s easy for survey creators to see questions as impersonal or objective, but this isn’t the same for respondents. These types of questions include contact information, salary, location, and demographic information (race/ ethnicity).

However, respondents will answer if they think it’s relevant to your project aims. It’s on you to emphasise their importance and relevance to your research.

Those who are invested in your research be affected by survey fatigue. But that’s only likely to be a small pool of your survey takers.

However, you must be critical of these respondents too. The people who go out of their way to have their opinion heard, usually have the most extreme opinions.