How Long Should a Survey Questionnaire Be?

by | Jan 2, 2023 | Survey Methodology, Survey Research

When designing a survey questionnaire, there are guidelines to consider regarding its length, including:

1. The purpose of the survey

If the survey is designed to collect detailed information from respondents, it may need to be longer to capture what is needed. 

2. The target audience

If the survey is being sent to a busy audience, a shorter survey may be more effective. A long survey is usually more appropriate for an audience who has the time and patience to complete a detailed questionnaire or those who have a vested interest in the survey’s content or results. Some target audiences that may be able to handle a long survey include researchers, experts in a specific field, or individuals who feel connected to the topic being surveyed. A short survey may be more appropriate for an audience that is busy or has a short attention span. Target audiences that may be better suited to a short survey include college students, busy professionals, or people who are not particularly interested in the topic being surveyed.

3. The method of distribution

If the survey is being distributed online, it may be easier for respondents to complete a longer survey because they can take their time and complete it at their own pace, especially if done in multiple iterations. However, it is also important to consider whether the risk of survey breakoff may be greater in self-administered surveys. If so, you may consider an interviewer-administered data collection mode so that an interviewer may help encourage complete participation.

4. Your plan for the results

A longer survey will likely require more time to analyze the results, so it’s important to consider how much time you have available to devote to data analysis. It is a waste of study participants time to collect significant amounts of data that are never used. Only collect what you need and expect to be able to analyze.

5. The burden on the participant

It’s important to consider the burden that the survey will put on the participants and try to minimize this as much as possible. This may involve reducing the length of the survey, providing clear instructions and making the survey as user-friendly as possible. It may also include design elements like survey incentives that can help reduce the overall burden.

In general, at SoundRocket we have found that survey questionnaires under 15 minutes in length generally are acceptable by most populations. However, it is possible to design data collections with questionnaires that last considerably longer. We have successfully completed self-administered surveys that take an hour to complete and interviewer-administered surveys that take about 90 minutes. We do not recommend stretching those lengths, however, without a very good reason and considerable thought before doing so. For more tips on questionnaire length and survey breakoff, check out another great post, Good Surveys Come With Subtraction, Not Addition.

SoundRocket is an expert in survey research, with specialized knowledge and experience in designing, conducting, and analyzing survey questionnaires. They can help researchers to develop a survey that is well-suited to their research goals and the characteristics of the population being studied, and can provide guidance and support throughout the entire survey process. This can help to ensure that the survey is successful and produces high-quality data that is useful for the research project. 

About the Author

Scott D. Crawford

Scott D. Crawford is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer at SoundRocket. He is also often found practicing being a husband, father, entrepreneur, forever-learner, survey methodologist, science writer & advocate, and podcast lover. While he doesn’t believe in reincarnation, he’s certain he was a Great Dane (of the canine type) in a previous life.