Rethinking the long survey: 3 compelling reasons why your surveys need to be a lot shorter

9 May 2019 | 4 min read | Written by Kelvin Claveria

Confession: I hate long surveys.... 

For the most part, I’m a pretty patient guy. I’m the type who lines up in queues without complaining. I can sit at my doctor’s office for half hour without losing my cool. I don’t normally complain about long wait times and I can tolerate tardy people. 🤷‍♂️

But when it comes to surveys, I have the patience — and attention — of a toddler. I’m a serial survey-abandoner. (Yes, I just made up that phrase; you’re welcome.😉 ) I’m more likely to leave a survey halfway through than to actually complete it.

My patience for surveys was recently put to test when I had to finish a 20-minute survey. 👎 Normally I’d abandon a survey that’s more than 10 minutes, but this one was about my industry so I wanted to make sure that I gave my feedback. But while I was able to get through the survey and share my thoughts, I didn’t provide the most articulate or intelligent answers. I sped through many of the questions and provided very little detail in my open-ended responses.

My attitude towards long surveys is not unique. One of the key reasons for declining response rates and survey fatigue in general is because of the standard 20- to 30-minute surveys that many companies are still accustomed to sending.

It’s time for the research industry to reconsider the long survey.

Here’s a look at the disadvantages of long surveys 🦖 and why shorter surveys 😎 are the way to go.

Build trust

In a recent study by the Global Research Business Initiative, only 26% of people said they trust the market research industry. When asked about why they mistrust the industry, people identified long surveys as a contributing factor.

“Surveys are perceived to be too often too long,” wrote the folks at GRBN. “The average length of the surveys people are asked to participate in continues to be over 20 minutes. We would argue that those people who aren’t regularly taking surveys would be even more likely to find these 20 plus minutes surveys to be too long.”

Market research has the potential to bring the voice of the customer in organization—to give consumers a seat at the table. But if our industry can’t earn the trust of the people it’s supposed to represent to begin with, then we might be in trouble. Given how they damage the reputation of the market research industry, it makes sense to abandon long surveys and consider the alternative.

Improve your insights

When you send long surveys, you risk encouraging the practice of straight-lining. People who just want to finish the survey (because of incentives or other reasons) will be more prone to providing the same answer on a rating scale or randomly choosing responses without really reading the questions.


Market research can drive data-driven and insight-driven decision making, but only if the feedback that you’re getting is accurate and authentic. If you’re sending long surveys that encourage people to give you inaccurate data, then you are putting your business at risk.

Mirror real (and enjoyable) human conversations

Have you ever met someone at a party who took too much of your time? Someone who wanted the conversation to keep going and didn’t know when to let you go? Many surveys are like that. They are so thrilled about getting your attention in the first place that they want to keep you longer than they should.

Our belief is that companies will get more honest insights from surveys if the experience is more similar to a conversation with a friend rather than an interrogation from a face-less company. To that end, it’s crucial to examine how people today talk to each other and then create an experience similar to that.

It’s worth looking into the popularity of messaging platforms and how that trend shapes person-to-person communication. When people talk to their friends and family on Facebook Messenger or over SMS, they are so used to frequent but short bursts of communication rather than one long, intense conversation. According to our CEO and Founder Andrew Reid, this behavior has given birth to a chat culture where “people chat for a bit, leave, and then return to chat again.”

Really, there isn’t any reason why you should be asking every single question you can think of.

“This chat-leave-return-chat cycle happens dozens, if not hundreds, of times a day, yet it doesn’t feel like a burden," Andrew points out. "After all, these interactions happen very quickly and are usually fun.”

We think surveys should feel the same way. That’s why we engineer our chat surveys (or “chats”) to be respondent-first. That’s why we encourage our clients to shorten their chats.

What’s the point of a long survey, anyway?

Given all the market research technology available to us today, it’s mind-boggling that long surveys are still standard practice.

“Really, there isn’t any reason why you should be asking every single question you can think of,” writes Andrew in a recent blog post. “Many market research platforms now allow you to invite people to subscribe to future activities or opt-in to your community. Take advantage of this functionality, and save other questions for future surveys.”

Indeed, from traditional insight communities to more modern, mobile-first networks, it has never been easier to get people’s consent for future communications. In the end, breaking up your questions into several chats as opposed to one, long arduous survey delivers higher participation rates and more honest insights you can use for decision making.

Andrew concludes, “The more we can mirror human conversations, the more people enjoy the experience, and the more likely companies will get authentic and honest insights.”

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Written by Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria) is Director of Demand Generation at Rival Technologies.

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