Respondent burden

Respondent burden is a relatively recent concern and it is often defined as the effort required to answer a questionnaire, or more precisely, how the responder perceives the participation in terms of how long it will take, difficulty level, and emotional toll.


This guide will teach you:

  1. Issues related to response fatigue
  2. Factors that affect response burden 
  3. Tips to reduce response fatigue 

When the response fatigue becomes too great, this results in a lower response rate, lower completion rate and could also produce lower-quality data, as responders may not spend enough time or effort to answer carefully and to the best of their ability. An important reason to avoid a low response rate is because of the non-response error that may be introduced, meaning the inability to obtain a useful response to all survey items from the entire sample.

2. Factors that affect response burden

A number of factors are suggested to affect respondent fatigue:

  • Actual and perceived questionnaire length
  • The complexity of the questionnaire (too much brainpower required and responders may drop out!)
  • Layout
  • Frequency of being surveyed
  • Sensitive or invasive questions
  • Responder's interest in the task and motivation
  • Responder sā€™ competence to complete the task

The respondent burden (also known as response and subject burden or response fatigue) may be particularly problematic in demographic groups, such as children or older people. A strong focus has been on questionnaire length, and, consequently, potential response fatigue is frequently a rationale for reducing the number of items in existing questionnaires (e.g., the short version of the Short-Form Health Survey) and is also driving the development of questionnaires with a minimum of items. Even though the response fatigue is frequently mentioned as a reason for abridging questionnaires, evidence to support this claim is limited.

3. Tips to reduce response fatigue

  • Take care how often you survey your contacts, so they do not get fed up by answering surveys
  • Keep the survey as simple as possible ā€“ only ask necessary questions
  • Use skip logic ā€“ you can reduce the number of questions that responders need to answer by creating rules so that they are only shown the questions relevant to them.
  • Make sure the layout is clear, user-friendly, and intuitive
  • Add some fun to the survey ā€“ check out our slot machine and scratch card questions to spice up the survey and keep responders interested!
  • Consider running a pilot study where respondents will go through your questionnaire and can give you feedback about the questions at the end. You could find out, for example, at which point they felt that the survey was getting too long, any questions that were worded in an unclear way, or that they felt were too taxing.
  • Communicate to responders about the purpose of their participation, for what their data will be used and why their answers are important to you.

Check out the entire glossary list in a printable list.

What's next?

  • The Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Net Promoter is calculated based on responses to a single question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 rating scale. This is an easy way to measure the customer loyalty of a company.
  • Survey bias means that the question is phrased or formatted in a way that leads people to choose a certain answer instead of another. The same applies if your questions are hard to understand, making it difficult for customers to answer honestly.
  • Survey Accuracy is the extent to which a survey result represents the attribute being measured in the group of interest or population. Determining how accurate the data captured by a survey reflects the entire population requires computing the confidence interval and the confidence level.

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