Post on 09/02/2016 by Sealia Thévenau

Categories : Your online surveys

Should you force your respondents to respond? Or do you risk losing them if you do?

Creating a questionnaire is a complex process.  One of the things you have to think about is whether a question, a set of questions, or a whole survey of questions should be set as mandatory. 

Mandatory questions should be used with caution.  The obvious advantage is that making a question mandatory ensures that you will receive an answer.  However, making certain questions mandatory might create respondent frustration and increase drop-out rates. 

Often questionnaires with high numbers of mandatory questions also have high drop-out rates, which is obviously something that needs to be avoided.  Similarly, high numbers of mandatory questions are more likely to yield frustrated or annoyed respondents, which is also to be avoided.  You see because even if they finish the survey they might not have answered in the same way because they are frustrated.  They might have stopped reading questions and just checked boxes or they might have written snarkier comments than usual for example. 

But I know how you feel… you’d like to make sure you get the answers you need to make meaningful analysis.  Know this: if the respondent is enjoying their survey taking experience they’ll answer the questions even if you haven’t made them mandatory. 

So the first thing to do is make your survey a positive experience for the respondent.  With Eval&GO it’s easy to make your survey look good, to include interactive questions like sliders, and include redirections which mean respondents only answer questions relevant to them.  However, there are some other things to consider when deciding whether to make a question mandatory or not. 

First: Does the question itself one that needs to be answered?

  • Filtering questions
    • If during your analysis you plan on filtering data based on certain criteria (like men vs women) then it might be an important step to make these Filter questions (What is your gender?) mandatory.
  • Branching / redirection questions
    • If you have configured your survey using branching it might be a good idea to make trigger questions (on which the rest of the survey or part of the survey depends) mandatory. This is especially important if failure to answer this question will send the respondent straight to the end of the survey because this has the very negative effect of making the respondent feel like you don’t care about their opinion.  They took time out of their day you need to make them feel like you appreciate it, even if you don’t use the data collected from that respondent later. 
  • Absolutely need-to-know high priority questions
    • You created a survey campaign presumably because you needed to answer one or more essential questions. There are often a few key questions in a survey you definitely want the answer to, these might be worth making mandatory.  However, with these types of questions, try sending the survey to a small percentage of your respondents without making them mandatory.  If you see that everyone or at least a very high percentage of people answered the question anyway, then you might want to consider leaving it as “optional”.  Respondents usually like to feel free to choose, it makes taking a survey feel less like a chore and more like a favor. 


Second: How does my respondent interact with my survey?

  • Who the respondents are matters
    • The relationship you have to the respondents should alter the way they perceive the questionnaire and therefore how they will answer. If it is a group of friends who are doing it as a favor to you, chances are they’ll answer every question even if none are mandatory (although I suppose this depends on the friend…). If the respondents are complete strangers then they will react differently to your survey and it might be necessary to make a select few questions mandatory.
  • The incentives respondents have matter
    • Incentives are important. If you have a lot of mandatory questions and your questionnaire has complex questions or is very long the respondent is going to need a larger incentive.  If the survey is short and is towards existing customers asking to evaluate a product you know they used, then they probably don’t need much incentive.  A general rule to keep in mind is the higher the incentive the more likely the respondent is going to be to put up with lots of mandatory questions. 
  • The length of the survey matters
    • Short survey with a few mandatory questions – tolerable. A thirty-page survey with every question mandatory including the free text ones – abandon ship!
  • The phrasing of the questions matter
    • If you phrase a question so that the respondent does not feel like they fit into the answer choice categories (or if you restricted the answers choices so narrowly that they can’t relate) then the respondent will likely abandon the questionnaire without answering the question. In survey creation it is important to remember that people of all types will be answering your questionnaire – if your questions make them feel like their being forced to answer in a way that doesn’t apply to them they’ll either skip the question, answer it “wrong”, or drop-out of the questionnaire.  If you’ve made it mandatory they’re that much more likely to abandon the questionnaire.
  • The type of questions matter
    • Another general rule to keep in mind is that you should not make free text answers mandatory. If you do, it’s essentially giving your respondent permission to leave.  If your respondent is taking time out of their day to fill out a survey, then their written opinion is a bonus that you might get if they have time, incentive, or motivation to give it to you.  If they don’t have the time, patience, or desire to type out what they think or explain their experience or what have you, then they’ll simply drop out as soon as a mandatory free text question appears. 


Deciding to make a question mandatory is a sort of complicated business.  If you have the possibility of sending out a test survey to a small percentage of respondents to see how they react to your mandatory question placement you can get a better idea of the success adding or removing mandatory questions might have.  If you don’t have this luxury, then simply try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes before adding mandatory questions willy-nilly: remember who is answering, what incentive they have to answer, and whether the respondent experience within your survey is a positive one in general. 


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