Respondent burden

Respondent burden definition

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

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Problems arising when respondent burden is greater than average

When the respondent burden becomes too great, this results in a lower response rate, lower completion rate and could also produce lower-quality data as respondents may not spend long enough or put in enough effort to answer carefully and to the best of their ability. An important reason why you want to avoid a low response rate is because of the non-response error that may be introduced if those who do not respond would have differed significantly in their responses to participants.

What factors affect respondent burden?

A number of factors are suggested to affect respondent burden:

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

The respondent burden 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 burden 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 respondent burden is frequently mentioned as a reason for abridging questionnaires, evidence to support this claim is however limited.

Tips to reduce respondent burden

  • Take care how often you survey your respondents, so they do not get fed up by answering surveys
  • Keep the survey as simple as possible – only ask necessary questions
  • Use skip logic – you can reduce the number of questions that respondents 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 – check out our slot machine and scratch card questions to spice up the survey and keep respondents 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 respondents about the purpose of their participation, what the data will be used for and why their answers are important to you.

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Vincent is the author of this solution article.

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