Should I make questions compulsory?
January 06, 2017 8:36 AM

There’s a lot to be said for requiring questions – gathering a good sample for your survey can be difficult and expensive, and it’s frustrating if you think you’ve got the required number of responses, only to find that some have not answered all your questions.

Also, in many cases, a questionnaire will be checking the suitability or otherwise of the respondent – for example, it may be working to quotas, or it may be necessary to screen out people for certain parameters (e.g. age, gender, occupation, etc). In these cases, then obviously the relevant questions should be mandatory, otherwise your survey might be skewed.

However, there are downsides to making questions compulsory. There are many, many instances of surveys we have seen (almost daily) where all questions are compulsory. But in some cases, it may be a question that your respondent doesn’t want to answer, for all your protestations of confidentiality. Or the respondent may simply not know the answer, or, very commonly, the right choices of response have not been provided. An example of this was a questionnaire seen recently which included questions about one’s carbon footprint. It included options for how much gas was used by the household every year.  There was no option for “none” for people who are not on mains gas (10% of UK homes). The result of this is that if the respondent wishes to continue the survey – because they’re keen to help, because they can enter a prize draw or they’re being offered another kind of incentive, including points and other rewards for panel members – they have to provide a wrong answer.

It hardly needs saying that forcing some of your respondents to provide a wrong answer is not the best way to conduct a survey!

Not only that, but such basic design errors (and almost everyone makes them) are annoying for the respondent, so much so that they may choose to end the survey altogether. This could also discourage them from participating in any more surveys for you, which is not what is wanted from panel members or, indeed, customers.

Thus, forcing responses may result in a decrease in both your number of responses and completion rate, and it may cause harm to the reputation of your company in the eyes of the respondent who now feels that they have wasted their time. Generally speaking if you want higher response rates it’s advisable to let your respondents only answer the questions that they want.

So, if you do  need to include compulsory questions, either make sure you have given the respondent every possible option, or include  an opt-out choice like ‘Not Sure’, ‘No Opinion’, ‘Don’t Know’, ‘Prefer Not to Answer’, or ‘N/A’. We would advise that you only use required questions when absolutely necessary, and if you can, run a small pilot survey to prevent the inclusion of questions without the right answers .