Proven methods to measure survey completion time

Blocksurvey blog author
Jan 18, 2023 · 4 mins read

Benjamin Franklin once said, 'Time is Money.' If you want to know the value of one year, ask a student who has failed his exam. If you want to know the value of one day, ask a daily wage laborer. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who has missed a train. To realize the value of one millisecond, ask a person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics. Time is important for everyone, so it is with researchers and respondents.

Benefits of knowing the completion time

Knowing the survey completion time benefits both the survey creators and respondents. It helps them to plan and manage the survey within their jurisdiction.

Below are a few benefits for the researcher or data collector when they know the survey completion time.

  • It helps them design surveys cost-effectively by minimizing the completion time for respondents.
  • Help them determine the optimal length of the survey to maximize the response rate.
  • Helps identify patterns in the survey, like loss of attention among respondents.
  • Helps them know the completion time in advance for timed surveys.

Below are a few benefits for the survey respondents when they know the completion time.

  • It helps them by giving them an idea of how long they need to complete the survey.
  • Help respondents better plan their time and manage the responses.
  • Help respondents better gauge if the survey is worth their time.

With the researcher and the respondent having their share of benefits while knowing the survey completion time, the real challenge comes when attempting to estimate the survey completion time. Read on to find out how it is estimated.

How is the completion time estimated?

Providing the completion time before taking the survey prepares the respondents to take the survey. As a survey creator or data collector, you must provide at least an approximate completion time to the respondent beforehand. Providing real accurate completion time may not be possible because completion time depends on many dynamic factors like the pace at which different respondents take the survey, the complexity of a question, varying complexity of the same question for different target respondents. So, survey completion time is more a measure pertaining to an individual respondent. However, there are specific strategies to determine the approximate completion time for a survey.  There are two well-known methods to find the completion time. I will also discuss a few other simple methods to estimate the survey completion time.

  • Time Stamp Method
  • Question Type Method
  • Other Methods

Now, how about diving into each of these methods in detail?

Time Stamp Method

Using the timestamp method to calculate the completion time, the start and end times of taking surveys are recorded. So, it becomes easier to arrive at the completion time by calculating the difference between the start and end times. The outliers are excluded, i.e., any completion time that is too long or short compared to the average time is excluded from the calculation.

You can choose to find the average completion time with a sample of 20-30 people to find the completion time. This completion time can later be shared with respondents to help them prepare for the survey.

The timestamp method can also be called Benchmarking or Pilot testing method interchangeably.

Question Type Method

In a question-type approach, a predefined completion time is set for individual question types like short text, long text, phone number, choice, matrix, email address, phone number, file upload, image capture, and other questions. The predefined times are set for each question type and are summed up to calculate the total completion time.

On average, it takes 7½ seconds to answer an online survey question. If you keep the questions simple, you can ask eight of them in one minute.

However, not all questions are simple; there can also be complex numerical questions that require more time for thought and mental calculation. So, it becomes necessary to have an approximate predefined completion time for all question types assigned and summed up to measure survey completion time.

Other Methods

Other than trying out the timestamp and question type methods, here are a few simple methods to obtain the survey completion time.

  • Ask participants directly: Ask the survey participants directly how long they think it will take to complete the survey. This is a helpful way to get an approximate estimate of the completion time. 
  • Analyze past surveys: Look at the results of past surveys to estimate the completion time. If the survey is similar to one done before, then you can use the completion time from the past survey as a reference.
  • Time yourself: Take the survey yourself and time how long it takes to complete it. This is the most accurate way to estimate the completion time of the survey.
  • Ask experts: Ask experts in the field who have experience with similar surveys what they think the completion time should be. This can be a valuable way to estimate the completion time.

In the next section, I will discuss a few simple things to consider while estimating completion time estimation before the final reflection.

Few obvious things to consider

  • First, the type of survey should be taken into account. Different types of surveys require different amounts of time to complete. For example, a survey that asks for opinions or feedback might take longer than a survey that asks for factual information. Therefore, it is vital to consider the type of survey and the time it might take to complete when deciding on survey completion time.
  • Second, the complexity of the survey should be taken into account. If the survey contains many questions and is long, it will likely take longer to complete than a survey with fewer questions and a shorter length. Therefore, it is essential to consider the complexity of the survey when deciding on survey completion time.
  • Third, the type of respondents should be taken into account. Suppose the survey is being conducted among a general population. In that case, the survey completion time will likely be shorter than if the survey is conducted among a specific demographic.

Final Reflections

One cannot deny that survey completion time is an important metric to consider when measuring the success of a survey. With the above-discussed methods, you can estimate how long it will take respondents to complete a survey more accurately or at least approximately. Optimizing the completion time will help you maximize the number of completed responses while minimizing the time it takes respondents to complete the survey.

The key to successful survey completion time prediction is to use a combination of all the above methods to obtain a more accurate estimate. Ultimately, think 360 degrees while attempting to measure survey completion time.

Proven methods to measure survey completion time FAQ

How can I ensure that I measure survey completion time accurately?

Survey completion time cannot be accurate to the point. However, we can attempt to get a near-accurate completion time with a combination of various methods like Timestamp, Question-Type, and a few others.

What factors can influence survey completion time?

The type of survey, the complexity of the survey, and the type of respondents are a few influencing factors that affect the survey completion time.

How can I use survey completion time data to optimize the survey design?

Make sure your survey completion time is not long. It should not trigger the respondents to lose interest in taking the survey. Ensure your survey completion time is not too long, and try optimizing your survey along those lines.

What best practices should I follow when measuring survey completion time?

The best practice would be using a combination of many methods and attempting a 360 degrees research approach while measuring survey completion time.

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blog author description

Sarath Shyamson

Sarath Shyamson is the customer success person at BlockSurvey and also heads the outreach. He enjoys volunteering for the church choir and loves spending time with his two year old son.

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