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Goldilocks and a survey that’s juuuuust right.

We all know the story – chairs that are too big, porridge that’s too hot or too cold, messy beds and three upset bears.  But Goldilocks was on to something. She wanted the “just right” experience, with no substitutions. Can’t we all relate to that?

When it comes to surveys, finding the right length is a lot like the story of Goldilocks. A survey that’s too short might not give you all the information you need and a survey that’s too long could frustrate your participants and lead to low response rates.

Here are five tips to follow when designing your next survey.

Ask only the questions you need

Focus on information that helps you make a decision and leave out everything else. It’s common to fill up a survey with questions that yield “nice to know” or “interesting” data, and there’s nothing wrong with asking those questions. Just make sure these filler questions aren’t added at the expense of participation. 80% of survey respondents will abandon partway through a survey they feel is too long. For every question you include in the survey, ask yourself, “How will knowing the answer help me make a decision?” If you don’t have a good response, leave it out.

Consider sending more than one survey

Do you need the same information from everyone? Depending on the number and nature of the questions you ask, you might consider whether it makes more sense to run separate surveys. You can start by asking the same handful of base questions but then distribute secondary questions across other versions. This is helpful when you want a snapshot of the relationship between different sets of data.

Pre-populate the survey with data you already have

Another way to minimize the number of questions you ask respondents is to use the data you already have collected about them. When you already know a person’s answer, don’t ask them to re-enter it. Pre-populating a survey will save time and increase participation.

Skip questions that aren’t relevant

Use branching and skip logic to hide questions that don’t apply to a given respondent. For example, you can ask, “Have you ever eaten porridge?”; if the answer is “No,” you can hide follow-up questions about temperature, preferred toppings, and cooking methods. These skip logic options make the survey visually shorter, which encourages respondents to stick around. There are other benefits too, such as ensuring that you collect the most useful information (Why collect porridge preferences from unqualified respondents?) and avoid wasting anyone’s time.

Just ask – we’re happy to help!
Remember that we’re always here to help. Sometimes you don’t need to design a questionnaire from scratch. You might start with a sample survey from our survey bank or borrow a few choice questions. Just keep in mind that more questions might not always be better! And if you’re looking for one-on-one help in survey design, that’s a service we gladly offer.

Remember that participants usually want to give you their feedback, but they don’t want to be scared away by a never-ending survey. In the end, Goldilocks was frightened off by the three bears and never returned — probably not your ideal participant reaction. Create a survey that’s juuust right and your respondents will gladly participate!