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For how long should you accept survey responses?

5 min read
One of the most common questions you will be asked about your survey is “What was the sample size?”, and rightly so. Sample size is an important signal that tells others if they can believe your findings. Sample size is what makes the difference between your research being “quantitative” (statistically significant) or “qualitative” (not statistically significant).

How long your survey is active will depend on your recruiting method (with a panel? Email? Social media? Word of mouth?) but here are some general tips to help you determine how long to leave your survey in field.

Daily check-ins

Knowing when to close your survey can be difficult to determine, but a good guideline is to run a check on three markers daily to take stock of the progress you are making against your sample quota. Make a simple graph of your daily response rate by tracking:

  • Good Completes: How many respondents successfully finish your survey
  • Screen Outs: How many respondents did not qualify to take your survey
  • Abandons: How many respondents qualified for your survey but abandoned before finishing

After a week or less of tracking this data you should be able determine if your current recruiting efforts will be enough to get you across the response finish line (your quota) and by when.

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Do a soft launch

You should always run a soft launch of your survey before completely opening up the spigot in full. Generally a soft launch is 10% of your total recruiting list if using email. A soft launch is a sneak peak into what you can expect for response rates, screen outs and abandons. It allows you to adjust anything wrong with the flow of your survey, the length of your survey and your screening criteria so those friction points don’t exist when you full launch. Soft launches are also a great way to catch any errors in your survey flow or logic.

Make peace with response rates and timeframes

It’s understandable. You work hard to design a survey and you hope others are excited to take it. Sadly, this isn’t usually the case. Most people will ignore your survey just like most fish will ignore a lure. Part of accepting this fact means understanding the normal time frames it takes for respondents to respond.

For an email invite, you can expect to see almost half of all your respondent activity within the first 3 days of invitation. For social media invitations the bulk of your responses will come within the first 24 hours of posting. Sure, you will see responses flow in after but they will come in more slowly until they are just a trickle.

Because of this law of diminishing returns, it doesn’t help much to leave your survey in the field for extended periods of time just hoping something ignites a fresh round of responses. If you haven’t made a serious dent in your quota by day 3 or 4, you probably need to change tactics, increase your incentive or take a new approach to recruiting.

Use reminders

Reminders are a great way to “sweep up” any additional responses. People are busy and even if they want to take your survey, your invitation may have arrived at an inopportune time. Effective reminders gently nudge any remaining respondents towards taking your survey by letting them know the survey will close soon and now is their chance. A good reminder practice is to re-emphasize the incentive if you have one and to reiterate that you are only accepting a certain number of responses. The survey platform you use should be able to schedule reminders, and should only send reminders to people who have not yet attempted to take your survey.

Measure twice. Cut once.

Though it’s not technically a tip on how long you should accept survey responses, it’s important remember that, unless your survey is connected to a dashboard, you shouldn’t start your analysis until you have collected all the responses you intend to collect and your survey has closed. This is the equivalent of the famous carpenter rule of “measure twice, cut once”. Waiting until all your data comes in to start analysis means you don’t have to go back later to re-do your work to bring in the new data, and you won’t have competing reports circulating that show different results to the same question.

Use dashboards

When you use a dashboard for your survey data you don’t need to fret about how long it’s in field. Dashboards give you the flexibility to stay in the field indefinitely if you want because they are auto-updated with every fresh response. A dashboard is an online report that shows your results in real-time. Using dashboards not only gives you the freedom to leave your survey in play, but they are more shareable and accessible than static reports that you need to email or post to a feed.

While there is no hard-and-fast rule for knowing how long to keep your survey live, these tips should give you the right clues to indicate if you will reach your target sample size and by when.

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