Tips for reducing respondent fatigue

It’s back-to-school season! Soon our students will be making their way back to campus, thanks to all the work the university has done to make this possible. As we celebrate the return of students, it’s also a good time to start considering how to respectfully access their valuable feedback. 

Last year, students were inundated with surveys due to many COVID-unique circumstances (students not being on campus, wanting to do more wellness checks, needing more feedback on the remote learning and program changes). According to Student Affairs, the number of survey projects sent out to students nearly doubled last year, going from 55 in the 2019-20 school year to 102 in 2020-21. (And this doesn’t include projects that were conducted within units for things like program and workshop evaluations, meaning the number is probably two to three times higher than that.)

By the time we reached spring of the 2020-21 school year, everyone conducting surveys was running into respondent fatigue issues and low response rates. As we begin to reach out again to students, here are a few tips to help reduce respondent fatigue and make data collection more efficient for the upcoming school year:

1. Combine surveys

If you’re conducting a survey to gather feedback on a workshop or class, consider adding a few questions related to you unit’s brand or social media use to reduce the need to run a separate marketing study later in the year.

2. Reduce survey length

Before you finalize a survey, look carefully at the questions and really think about what you’re going to do with the data you collect. Are all of the questions in the “need to know” category or are some in the “nice to know” category”? Consider eliminating or rotating the “nice to know” questions to keep your surveys shorter, increasing the likelihood that a respondent will complete the survey.

3. Follow survey best practices

Double check your surveys for the basics, like consistency in terms (e.g., do you switch between “U of I” and “UIUC” in the survey?), consistency in answer options (e.g., having one scaled question with the low end of the scale on the right but the next one with the low end of the scale on the left), making sure there’s an answer option for everyone (include “None of the above” or “Other” answer options), not asking double-barreled questions (“How satisfied were you with the content and instructor for the workshop?”), and define acronyms to ensure the respondent knows what you’re asking about. Poorly worded and programmed surveys will cause respondents to drop out prior to completion.

4. Modernize your surveys

The survey tool in Webtools is free and simple to use, but lacks modern capabilities that respondents are used to seeing in surveys nowadays. Work with modern tools like Qualtrics (available through SMB) not only to make your surveys more visually appealing, but also to collect better and more actionable data through more advanced survey programming (like piped or personalized text, skip logic, question randomization, sliding scale questions, and programming-exclusive answer options or answer randomization).

Don't forget that for any survey your team runs, the Office of Strategic Marketing & Branding can help you improve survey quality and the data you collect, whether it’s through providing recommendations and review of a survey you run yourself, or through end-to-end survey deployment. Cheers to a great 2021-22 school year!