6 tips that increase the response rates of your surveys

By Morten B. Lund, Ramboll Management Consulting

If you are about to carry out a survey, you have probably already considered this question: how do I achieve the highest possible response rate? A high response rate is critical to ensuring that the subsequent dataset gives you useful and reliable information. But don't worry, you don't have to be an expert in survey methodology to get started. Here are 6 tips that will help you achieve as many responses as possible for your next survey.

  1. Ask about the right things
    Cut to the chase and only ask about what you need answers to. Before you start designing the survey, it's important to define its objectives as precisely as possible. When the purpose has been clarified, it's much easier to determine whether each of the questions actually serves that purpose. If the survey has multiple objectives, it's often better to divide it into two or more surveys – which are then distributed with gaps between them. Short, precise surveys achieve higher response rates than long, comprehensive surveys. Put yourself in the respondent's shoes: wouldn't you also rather respond to a few pointed questions that are relevant to you than answer a wide range of questions about anything and everything?

  2. Ask at the right time
    There is no single perfect time to send out a survey. But put yourself in the recipient's shoes and try to decipher when the recipient could be expected to have a relevant opinion about the topic being explored by the survey. If you feel that the ideal times seems to be 14 days away, it may be worthwhile waiting until then. When the topic is current and pertinent to the recipient, the survey will generate more numerous and comprehensive results.
     
  3. Make the question clear
    If your questions are lengthy and difficult to understand, there is a greater risk of the recipient misunderstanding or skipping them or of abandoning the survey altogether. Use words that everyone in the target group will understand and avoid technical terms, if possible. It may be a good idea to ask a colleague or friend who fits the target group to test the survey, and to observe how the person responds to each of the questions. It's natural to automatically use one's own technical language without realising it. Feedback from the target group can help remove unnecessary technical terminology and come up with questions that are not confusing or unsuitably worded.

  4. Ask through the right channels
    If you know the target group for your survey, you can also find out which media people in the group use. Surveys can now be carried out in many different ways and places, such as via email, SMS, digital mail, QR codes and social media. And you can easily use several channels at the same time. When you hit the target group on the platform they are using, you increase the likelihood of them seeing your message and having the time and inclination to respond. If it's possible for them to answer when they are sitting in the train on the way to or from work, perhaps the recipient should receive an email early in the morning or in the afternoon after work. In other situations, you may be aware that you are sending emails to work addresses. In that case, sending an email at lunchtime may well increase the response rate. What all of the methods have in common is that the more options for ways to respond you can give respondents, the more likely they are to do it. So, as an example, consider whether a conventional invitation email should be followed up with a reminder via SMS. You'll be surprised by how this affects results.

  5. Ask with the help of logical scales
    It's important to think carefully about how you use questions using scales. You probably already know the classic scale that ranges from "Highly agree" to "Highly disagree". There's a good reason for this: it performs well because it is both easily recognisable and easy to understand. As with the choice of questions, it's important to avoid misunderstandings or confusion among recipients, so think carefully when deciding which scales to use for your questions. And if you are in doubt, don't reinvent the wheel – rather use well-know scales that have been tried and tested.

    1. We recommend using a scale with an uneven number of potential answers in most case. Placing yourself on an even scale makes it impossible to place yourself "in the middle”. If the recipient then wants to place him- or herself in the middle, you risk getting a ”don't know” response instead of a genuine answer; or, even worse, you may get an incomplete response because the recipient becomes so frustrated with the scale that he or she abandons it.

    2. We recommend using scales and descriptions that are manageable and known to most people. If a recipient needs to consider a new type of scale or a highly nuanced scale, it can become very difficult and time-consuming for the individual. Time-consuming enough for the recipient to abandon the survey. The less time recipients have to spend familiarising themselves with your scale, the more time they have to answer the actual questions thoroughly.

  6. Give the recipient a good experience
    This suggestion will not increase the response rate of the first survey you send out. But if the recipient has had a good experience in connection with the first survey you sent, then there's also a better chance of getting a response the next time you need their help. The good experience can be generated in various ways. If the previous 5 points have been ticked off, you have already come a long way. In addition to this, it's always a good idea to acknowledge respondents' participation and perhaps offer to send relevant results from the survey. Or simply forward the user on to a relevant web page as a way of ending the survey.

 

Rambøll has more than 30 years' experience in generating all kinds of surveys and processing data for large and small companies, as well as public sector departments and government agencies. So if you need more knowledge and inspiration, we can definitely help.

Training courses that enhance your return
If you would like to learn more about working with evaluations and surveys, you are most welcome to attend one of SurveyXact's courses on surveys and methodology. The courses are free to SurveyXact customers, and there are options for beginners as well as experienced survey administrators that will support your work before, during and after your next survey.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Warm regards,

Rambøll SurveyXact

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