5 free ways to increase questionnaire engagement

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My questionnaire is the most interesting and engaging questionnaire ever written.

Not.

Every researcher likes to think that the questionnaires they write are of excellent quality and highly engaging. That’s a worthy goal, and one we should strive for everyone time we put fingers to keyboard, but it’s usually far from the truth.

In most cases, the people who are most likely to find a questionnaire engaging are the people who wrote or commissioned it. Let’s be completely honest with ourselves. Not many people are as intricately interested in the colour of a box, the shape of a bottle, or the font of a brand name than the person who has invested 40 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year into strategizing, planning, and developing it.

Sure, you could easily cause an uprising among consumers if one of those things was changed, but if you consider each item within the experience of completing a questionnaire, it’s easy to see that the researcher and the brand manager have the most to gain from employing a bit of cognitive dissonance and viewing the questionnaire as truly engaging.

So how can we make the questionnaire experience, one that can easily be the lowlight of someone’s day, a more positive experience? Maybe even the highlight of their day such that they can’t wait to talk about it with their friends? Here are five tips to get you closer to that goal.

Have a sense of humour.

It would be really easy to search the internet for jokes, comics, and cartoons and insert them throughout the questionnaire but that’s rarely the best idea to accomplish this tactic. Those tactics can inadvertently cause participants to lose their train of thought or take their mind out of the research context. Instead, find ways to naturally insert humour within the context of the questionnaire. Or, if the questions are truly all boring (be really honest with yourself!), try creating a couple of bonus questions that are still on-topic, but contain a bit of humour. 
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  • If your questionnaire is about food, insert ‘Mmmmm’ in an appropriate place.
  • If your questionnaire asks about colours, give options for ‘Blue, like Cookie Monster!’
  • If your questionnaire asks how many they plan to buy, an answer like ’10 or more’ could be phrased as ’10 or more, lots more!’

Acknowledge the effort.

Sometimes, we have no alternative but to create questionnaires that take thirty minutes to complete. We know that’s long and we incentivize for it, but incentives are not enough. Not everyone is completely motivated by money and this is a good place to recognize that some people participate in surveys because they want to help people. Acknowledge your appreciation for their efforts part way through the questionnaire with a positive message.
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  • We know this is long questionnaire and we’re grateful for your efforts so far. Thank you.
  • You’re doing awesome so far. Keep it up!
  • Thanks for paying such careful attention to these questions. You’re almost done!

Use casual language.

Don’t get bogged down in formal, official language with precise grammar and formatting. If you wouldn’t talk to your friends and family like that, why do it in a questionnaire?
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  • You might be used to asking “In what country do you live” but it’s far more natural and colloquial to simply ask “Where do you live.”
  • Instead of asking ‘What is your age in years?’ try asking ‘How old are you?’

Empathize with imperfection.

Questionnaires often require people to make precise guesses about their behaviours. For instance, did you buy 3 or 4 chocolate bars last month? Did you buy your car in 2012 or 2013? Was your grocery bill $130 or $135? One of the most frustrating components of answering questionnaires is when people feel like their answers aren’t good enough. Make sure participants know you’re simply asking them to try their best and you are trying to be reasonable.
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  • Use phrases like ‘about,’ ‘approximately,’ and ‘as best as you can remember.’
  • Ask about yesterday or last week rather than last month or last year

Use your manners.

Whether it was your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, or your neighbours, you were taught well. You were raised to say please and thank you and now is the perfect time to use those skills. Considering that people are being asked to share their personal opinions for a small token of appreciation, they are certainly owed more than one thank you at the end of the questionnaire. Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ liberally and genuinely throughout.
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  • Try phrases like ‘Please indicate approximately how many boxes of cereal you bought on your last shopping trip.”
  • ‘Please share your thoughts about this package design in the open text box.’

You may not be able to create a questionnaire that’s engaging as someone’s goofy child enjoying a day with the family but you can certainly aim to put a smile on your participant’s face.

Get ready for those happy participants to share their opinions!

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