Surveys provide valuable insights into a specific population’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Questions within a survey can be either mandatory—requiring a response before moving forward or optional.
Researchers and industry experts have expressed strong opinions on using mandatory questions in surveys.
Should survey-takers be required to answer all questions, or should they be free to skip those they don’t want to answer? Do these questions produce more thorough data or discourage people from participating and raise dropout rates?
This blog post aims to explore both sides of this argument, discuss the middle ground, and offer best practices for survey design.
Advocating for Mandatory Questions in Surveys
Mandatory questions in a survey are those that participants must respond to before progressing to the next question or finishing the survey. These questions are typically indicated by an asterisk (*) or similar symbols, meaning they are mandatory.
The primary rationale for including compulsory questions is data completeness. These are necessary for participants to skip questions, resulting in partial data sets.
For instance, in a market research survey for a new product, a crucial question such as “Would you buy this product?” might be overlooked by some. This could lead to inadequate data, thus hampering informed decision-making regarding the product’s market feasibility.
Furthermore, mandatory questions in surveys can enhance response quality. Participants aware of obligatory questions will likely deliberate more over their answers, improving the data quality.
Arguing Against Mandatory Questions in Surveys
Nevertheless, mandatory questions can also pose challenges! Here are a few arguments against them:
- Increased Dropout Rates: Mandatory questions can make a survey feel long and tiresome, causing respondents to drop out halfway. For example, a survey that requires an answer to every question can feel overwhelming, causing the participant to quit before completion.
- Privacy: These questions can sometimes feel invasive. For instance, forcing respondents to disclose their income level or marital status might make them uncomfortable, and they could abandon the survey.
- Inaccurate Responses: Respondents may provide false information to move the survey forward. For example, if they are forced to answer a question they don’t know the answer to, they may just guess or provide a random answer.
- Lower Response Rates: Surveys with too many mandatory questions may discourage people from starting them. This could lead to lower overall response rates.
- Bias in Responses: Mandatory questions may only be completed by people who feel strongly about a topic. This could skew your results.
- Lack of Flexibility: Only some questions apply to every respondent. Forcing a response can lead to frustration. For example, asking a mandatory question about car ownership to people who only use public transportation is irrelevant.
- Reduced Trust: Too many mandatory questions can make respondents suspicious about why you need so much information, reducing their trust in your survey or even your organization.
- Irrelevant Data: Mandatory questions might lead to a collection of data that is not relevant to your study, causing noise in your results.
- Increased Time to Complete: Surveys with mandatory questions can take longer, which may deter potential respondents, especially if they are busy or the survey is longer than expected.
Achieving Equilibrium: Recommended Practices
So, how do you strike an optimum balance? Here are some suggested practices:
- Restrict the number of mandatory questions: Aim to make only the most critical questions mandatory. This approach ensures you capture essential data without overburdening your participants.
- Make sensitive questions optional: Avoid making participants uncomfortable by providing the option to skip personal questions about income, health, or family status.
- Highlight mandatory questions: Clearly indicating mandatory questions helps set participant expectations and prevents unexpected inability to progress in the survey.
- Test your survey: Before distributing your survey, test it with a small group to identify potentially confusing or off-putting questions.
Examples of Mandatory Questions in Surveys
- Have you had any allergic reactions to medications in the past?
- What is your primary health concern today?
- Do you have any known allergies?
- How would you rate your pain level on a scale from 1-10?
These mandatory questions help healthcare providers avoid prescribing medications that could harm the patient.
- What is your highest level of education?
- What is your current level of education (high school, undergraduate, or postgraduate)?
- What field of study are you interested in?
- How satisfied are you with the quality of teaching in your current course?
These questions help schools or universities understand the educational background of their students or applicants.
- What is your current living situation?
- What is your budget for purchasing a new home?
- Are you currently working with a real estate agent?
- What is the main feature you’re seeking in your new home (location, size, style, etc.)?
Such questions will help real estate agents understand if a client is a renter, homeowner, or living with relatives, which impacts their housing needs.
- What is your primary reason for shopping with us today?
- Did you find everything you were looking for today?
- How would you rate your overall shopping experience with us?
- What factors influenced your decision to shop with us today?
These questions help businesses understand customer motivations and guide service or product recommendations.
- What operating system do you use?
- Which of our products/services do you use?
- Have you experienced any difficulties while using our product/service?
- How would you rate the ease of use of our product/service?
Knowing the user’s operating system is critical for software developers to ensure software compatibility.
- Do you have any dietary restrictions?
- What was the purpose of your visit (business, leisure, or event)?
- How would you rate the cleanliness of our facility?
- Were our staff members helpful and courteous during your stay?
For restaurants or hotels, these questions are necessary to provide a safe and enjoyable dining experience.
- What is your current employment status?
- What is your current employment status (employed, self-employed, unemployed, or retired)?
- What is your annual income range?
- Do you currently have any outstanding loans or debts?
Banks and lenders must determine clients’ ability to repay loans or credit.
- Do you have any medical conditions we should be aware of?
- What is your preferred travel destination?
- What is your intended date of departure?
- Are you travelling for business or pleasure?
Airlines or travel companies need the above information to ensure passenger safety during travel.
- Do you currently own a vehicle?
- What is the primary use of your vehicle (personal, commercial, or recreational)?
- Have you had any mechanical issues with your vehicle in the past six months?
- How satisfied are you with your current vehicle’s performance?
Knowing if a customer is a current car owner can guide discussions and potential sales for car dealerships.
ALSO READ: 10 Must-Ask E-commerce Survey Questions
In conclusion, whether to use mandatory questions in surveys depends on your specific needs. If you want in-depth responses and are okay with potentially lower completion rates, then mandatory questions could be your go-to option!
On the other hand, if you prioritize high participation and want to avoid frustrating your respondents, you might avoid making questions compulsory. Ultimately, the best approach may be a balance: making key questions mandatory while leaving others optional.