Causes of Survey Incompletes

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What are the drivers of incompletion, the making of unhappy respondents?

Causes of survey incompletion

In one analysis that Lightspeed conducted, 35% of incompletions were because of the subject matter of the survey, 20% were due to media downloads, 20% due to survey length, 15% due to grids and 5% due to too many open-ended questions.  Here’s what James had to say about each in turn:

  1. Subject matter – “Fabric conditioner is a dull subject matter, and it was an issue [for incompletes] early on in the questionnaire.” Automotive surveys, on the other hand, have a lower rate of incompletion compared to most other subjects; respondents are engaged with the topic.
  2. Media downloads – Older respondents won’t wait for long download times; 18- to 34-year old respondents, on the other hand, are more willing to wait while media is downloading.
  3. Survey length – Many respondents abandon the survey at the introduction, then remain, with a steady increase in incompletes after 15 minutes.
  4. Grids – One client frantically called James into a meeting due to problems with “bad” respondents. They said, “Something has to be done! Look at the data – respondents are flatlining after the 35th grid!” Even relatively small grids seem like a lot of work to respondents, let alone grid after grid. “Making grids mandatory pushes people to drop out – there is a selection of people that don’t want to do them.”
  5. Open-ends – Having too many questions that require respondents to type in answers leads to greater incompletion.

Only one of James’ 800 clients has an internal gate-keeper who validates the quality of surveys before they go to field. Many questionnaires are simply not up to research standards and have not paid any attention to respondent engagement.

James summed up by saying, “Online research is only sustainable if the industry works in partnership to address both panel and survey quality concerns. Respondents are not a limitless resource – we need them to want to take more questionnaires. Keep a constant eye on the incompletion rate of your own surveys and take action: your data is ultimately the victim of a survey that does not engage respondents.  It’s all about engaging the audience – it’s good for the respondent, it’s good for the panel and it’s good for your data.”


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