Mandatory questions — How to use them in a survey

May 26, 2019 | Improve your surveys

Creating a questionnaire is a complex process. As a result, one of the things you need to consider is whether a question, a set of questions or a series of questions should be made mandatory.

Mandatory questions should be carefully used. Clearly, having a compulsory question ensures that you will receive an answer.  However, making some questions mandatory could create frustration among respondents and increase drop-out rates.


Should you force your respondents to answer? Or are you at risk of losing them if you do?


In most cases, questionnaires with a large number of mandatory questions are also subject to a high drop-out rate, which is certainly something to avoid. Likewise, many mandatory questions are more likely to frustrate or annoy respondents. Despite responding to the survey, they may not have responded in the same way because they are frustrated.  It is possible that they have stopped reading the questions and have only checked boxes.

But I certainly do understand how you feel… to ensure that you get the answers, you need to do a meaningful analysis. If the interviewee appreciates his or her survey experience, he or she will answer the questions even if you made it non mandatory.

The most important thing to do is to ensure that  your survey is a positive experience for the respondent. With Eval&GO, it is easy to make your survey attractive. You can include interactive questions such as sliders and re-directions. These questions allows respondents to answer questions that are specific to them.

Nevertheless, there are a number of other aspects to consider before deciding whether or not to make a question mandatory.


Filter questions


Considering that, during your analysis, you plan to filter the data according to certain criteria (such as men versus women). It may be significant to make these filter questions mandatory (what is your gender?).


Branching / redirection questions


Suppose you have configured your survey using the branching, it may be appropriate to make trigger questions mandatory. This is particularly important if  failure to answer this question sends the respondent directly to the end of the survey. This can have a  very negative effect and give the respondent the impression that you do not care about their opinion. They have taken time out of their day. Therefore, you must give them the impression that you appreciate them. Nevertheless, you might not use the data collected from this person afterwards.


Top priority issues to be addressed


You probably created a survey campaign because you had to answer one or more essential questions. In a survey, there are a few key questions which you most certainly want an answer, it may be appropriate to make them mandatory.  With these types of questions, try to send the survey to a small portion of your respondents without making them mandatory.  If everyone or at least a very high proportion of people has answered the question again, you may want to consider leaving it as “optional”.  Respondents generally like to feel free to choose, therefore answering a survey is less a chore than a favor.


How does my respondent interact with my survey?


Who are the respondents?


Your interaction with respondents should change the way they perceive the questionnaire. If a group of friends do this to help you, it is likely that they will answer all the questions even if none are mandatory. Let’s assume that respondents are complete strangers, that he/she will react differently to your survey and on the other hand,  it may be necessary to make some questions mandatory.


The incentives that respondents have to offer are important.


Incentives are important, assume that you have many mandatory questions and your questionnaire contains complex questions or is very long. This means that the respondent will need a greater incentive.  On the other  hand, If the survey is short and aimed at existing customers, asked to rate a product they have used, they probably don’t need much motivation.  A general rule to consider is that the higher the incentive, the more likely it is that the respondent will have to answer a large number of mandatory questions.


The length of the survey in mandatory questions.


Short survey with some mandatory questions  is tolerable. A thirty-page survey with all mandatory questions, including free text questions respondents will abandon the ship.


The wording of the questions is important.


Asking a question in such a way that the respondent does not understand it,  will bring it into the question’s answer choice categories. Restricting the choices of answers so narrowly that they cannot be understood, will lead them to abandon the questionnaire. When creating the survey, it is important to remember that people of all types will answer your questionnaire.Under conditions where your questions give them the impression that they must answer in a way that does not apply to them. They will skip the question, answer it “wrong” or “forget it”.  If you have made it mandatory, they are more likely to drop out of the questionnaire.


The type of mandatory questions counts.


 Another general rule to consider is that you should not use free text responses as mandatory. Free text responses generally permits respondents to withdraw from the survey. Provided the respondent takes the time to complete a survey, their written opinion is a bonus that you could get if they have the time. Suppose they do not have the time, or desire to type in what they think or explain their experience.  They will simply give up as soon as a mandatory free text question appears.

Deciding to make a question mandatory is a little complicated. If you have the possibility to send a test survey to a small percentage of respondents. Try to see how they react to your mandatory questions. You can get a better idea that could be achieved by adding or removing mandatory questions.

If you don’t have this luxury, simply try to put yourself in the audience’s shoes before adding mandatory questions at random. Remember who is responding and whether the respondents’ experience in your survey is generally positive.


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