Mandatory Questions In Surveys: Yes Or No?

by
Philip Cleave
on
June 1, 2023
Pic highlighting how important all question types are to your response rate

Having spent lots of time designing and fine tuning your survey, you’ll want to generate as much engagement with it as you can when it comes to launching it.

Yet, no matter how well-crafted and interesting your survey questions, there’s always a slight niggling concern at the back of your mind about whether people may skip some of your content. And if too many people do this, the damage to your response rates, could harm the reliability of your data and how useful it is to you as a result.

So, what do you do?

At this stage it can be tempting to say, I know, I’ll just make it a mandatory requirement for respondents to answer all my questions. Wrong!

While there are a few exceptions, such as an organization running a compulsory employee satisfaction survey, so it can better assess staff contentment levels, or a government census survey where responses are required to help shape future policies; generally speaking, mandatory questions are not recommended.

Reasons to avoid mandatory questions in your survey

At first it may seem that mandatory survey questions are the solution to getting the volume of responses you need, but in fact it could do the opposite and cause other problems too.

Here’s some compelling reasons to avoid mandatory questions in your survey.

It’s not respectful of respondents' time

Given the myriad of different ways and range of devices that recipients can receive their online survey these days, it’s likely that they’ll be involved in some other activity when it hits their inbox.

Consequently, busy recipients are unlikely to want to spend more than a few minutes completing your survey. So, you need to be respectful of this when you’re designing it and think about any obstacles that might hold them up.

Certainly, a mandatory question could be viewed as such. This is because most people who agree to start a survey do so because they want to, whether that’s because it’s a topic that interests them or they want their voice to be heard on a particular issue. The last thing they want when giving up their time, is a question demanding an answer from them.

Your response rate is likely to decrease

Although it may seem contrary to what you might expect, making all your questions mandatory could lead to fewer, rather than more responses. This could certainly be the case if you’ve not given sufficient time to the planning of your survey, especially the wording of your questions.

For example, let’s say you ran a survey about pets and included a mandatory question such as: “What is the breed of your cat or dog?

Well, unless you provided a screening question at the start of your survey that ensured only cat and dog owners could take it, while disqualifying everyone else, a non cat or dog owner faced with this question is likely to become very frustrated and drop out altogether.

Similarly, some questions can be very sensitive such as those that ask for personal detail. Subsequently, if you make these questions mandatory, you’re likely to offend some people, who will then abandon your survey too.

Your data’s likely to be less reliable

Another reason to avoid mandatory questions is that it could harm the reliability of your data.

Looking at the example of our earlier pet question again, while it’s bad enough if some respondents drop out of your survey, it’s even worse if people select an answer that’s not true of their own situation in order to progress to the next question.

In this scenario, if you didn’t put a screening question at the beginning of your survey to eliminate those that don’t own cats or dogs, you could help respondents by offering them the opportunity to navigate past irrelevant questions with features such as skip logic.

Ultimately, if you’re trying to find out more about cat and dog owners, the last thing you need is made up answers that skew the reliability of your data and lead to you making incorrect decisions as a result of your survey’s findings. So, as well as avoiding mandatory questions, you want to ensure your survey is as relevant as you can make it for those completing it.

What to do if you must use mandatory questions

While we don’t advise their use, here’s some useful guidance on mandatory questions, if you definitely feel you need to include some in your survey.

Make it clear which questions are required

From your page titles and descriptions to progress bars that help respondents to orient themselves and know how much more time your survey will take to complete. When it comes to your survey, communication is the key to keeping your respondents engaged.

The same should be said for mandatory questions. If you require a question, it’s good practice to let your respondents know it’s required, which can be easily achieved through ticking a required checkbox besides each question that’s mandatory.

For our own customers we offer a help page for those trying to set up ‘required’ questions in their survey, which can be found in our help guide, 'Making Survey Questions Mandatory'.

Add opt-out answer options for any required questions

If you require a mandatory question, then you must offer an answer option for everyone; otherwise, you’ll risk collecting bad data.

Depending on your likely audience, if you’re unsure that your list of answer options will apply to all your survey respondents, just add an opt-out answer option such as other, none of the above or not applicable to the bottom of your answer list.

Final thoughts

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and feel better informed about mandatory questions, as well as what to do if you decide to include some.

The key thing to remember when you’re designing a survey and the questions to go with it, is that you want your survey-taking experience to be as smooth as possible for those completing it. So, it’s important to take the right steps towards this. If you can do that your survey respondents will be happier, and you’ll give yourself the best chance of obtaining the data you need.

Get the responses you need

While your question choice is critical to keeping the interest of your respondents and ensuring they complete your survey, it’s not the only area you need to be concerned about. Your survey distribution, collection, data analysis and reporting are also crucial to your success. But you need to be using the right survey tools for that.

Find out more

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If you would like more information then please get in touch.