How Many Survey Questions Should I Use?

August 2, 2016

If you’re wondering how many survey questions you need to include in your questionnaire, the short answer is: as few as possible.

Keeping your survey question count low is crucial, because survey fatigue is a real danger for survey makers hoping to collect the best, most accurate data.

A few well worded, well designed survey questions are usually no problem for respondents to complete. But, once a survey starts to get bogged down with page after page of radio buttons, essay boxes, and convoluted question phrasing, respondents either lose interest and become too frustrated to complete the rest of the survey.

Deciding the exact number of survey questions you need to reach your goals is, of course, more complicated. It depends largely on your purpose and audience. But, that’s not all.

The quick and dirty guidelines for determining how many questions to use in a survey are:

  • Get to the point: Ask only as many survey questions as you need to achieve your goal.
  • Stay on track: Every question you ask must be directly related to your survey’s purpose.
  • Respect their time: Your respondents are busy people! Faster is better for response rates.

In this post, I cover each of these considerations and give you tips for determining the optimal length for your next survey project.

How Your Goals Should Influence the Number of Survey Questions You Use

The first step for you to take, long before you start writing survey questions, is to determine your survey’s purpose and goals.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I making this survey?
  • What kind of data am I looking for?

The answers to these questions will help you determine the kind of survey you are running, the survey question types you will use, and how many survey questions you need to ask to get you to where you want to be.

What follows in an example of a survey maker going through the purpose-setting process.

What is The Purpose of This Survey?

A small business owner wants to expand his current web design business to include new services. He has a few ideas of what offerings he could make, like mobile app development, copywriting, or digital marketing consulting, but before he makes the investment in new personnel, he wants to make sure his customers are interested.

So, he decides to make a survey.

The purpose of his survey is to determine which services existing customers would be most interested in seeing from his team.

The goal is to identify which service his business should develop next and, importantly, where he will be investing his time and money. He wants to make sure the survey data points him in the right direction!

What Kind of Data Am I Looking For in Response to My Survey Questions?

Now that he’s decided his survey’s purpose, he can dive right into picking survey question types, right?

Not exactly.

While it may seem like common sense, it’s important to take an extra moment to think about what kind of data you need to be able to act on your survey data after you have it.

In our imaginary business owner’s case, he is looking for concrete feedback from his existing customers. .

In this case, he could put together a very simple survey centered around a check box question type asking customers to select any additional services they would be interested in. (Of course, he remembers to include an “Other – Write In” option so that customers can submit their own ideas.)

This is the simplest version of the survey that the business owner could make.

But, it’s likely that he would want more information, like how likely they would be to use a particular service if he provided it, and what kinds of projects, if any, they already have in mind.

This kind of information may give him greater insight into what his customers want versus what services they really need.

To collect this kind of data, it would be best to use more advanced question types like text boxes, Likert Scales, and even Drag & Drop Rankings to determine potential projects, likelihood of using the new services, and ordering which new services they would like to see unveiled first, second, and third.

Do you see how thinking about what kind of data you need really determines how many questions (and what kind of questions) you need to ask in your survey?

The basic version of our business owner’s new service survey could have been made in a question or two.

But, when looking for more robust data, more and more advanced questions are needed. That said, always keep in mind that your respondents’ time is valuable. If your purpose is broad, then consider breaking the survey down into multiple micro-topics.

Fighting Survey Fatigue with Micro-Surveys

Micro-surveys are bite-sized surveys that require very little time and may only involve a question or two. Because they are the very definition of short and sweet, they may be exactly what busy respondents need to give you their honest feedback without bogging down their day.

In the example of our business owner, he could choose to break up his new service research into smaller steps. The first would be to survey his customers to see which new services they would be interested in.

Let’s say that, of the customers that responded, most are looking for an app development service.

The business owner could then follow up with those exact customers for more information on project ideas and timelines.

This way, he will be able to gauge their interest, determine timeline, and discover exactly which skills he will need to look for in a new hire.

The Ideal Number of Survey Questions for Most Surveys

To be clear, there is no magic number for every survey and every audience.

But, in general and for most survey types, it’s best to keep the survey completion time under 10 minutes. Five minute surveys will see even higher completion rates, especially with customer satisfaction and feedback surveys.

This means, you should aim for 10 survey questions (or fewer, if you are using multiple text and essay box question types).

When you start moving into long surveys with lots of questions and over 10 minute completion times, you may want to consider offering respondents an incentive to compensate them for their time. Online gift cards are popular, but you can also use custom prizes or coupons.

In the Alchemer application, we do our best to help you out with keeping surveys on track.

Under the “Test” tab, the Survey Diagnostic panel that estimates how long your survey will take, how fatiguing it is, and how accessible it is to sight-and-hearing impaired audiences.

Alchemer Blog: How Many Survey Questions Should I Use? - Completion Time Dashboard

While you should definitely have a real, live person run through the survey to catch any errors, this diagnostic panel is a great way to make sure you’re balancing your data needs with your respondent’s busy lives. It will also alert you to any potential problems within the survey itself.

Happy surveying!

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