Introduce the Questionnaire at the Top

At the start of your questionnaire, just below the title, the first text the respondent sees should be an introduction. It should explain for the newly arrived respondent both the purpose of the survey and the road map ahead. Remember, not everyone who reaches the online link for the survey will have gotten the invitation email that explains this background information. Someone might have forwarded the link to a group or a person without much context or detail.

In the introduction you could foreshadow the number of questions, but more importantly the number of questions that require them to think, i.e., not the easy demographic questions such as their last name. “This survey asks a few questions about you and then 13 questions on attitudes and important numbers.” You could describe the flow of areas of inquiry within the overall topic: “First we ask about causes of stress, then we move to possible alleviators of stress.”

Too, the introduction could highlight the incentives that thank people who complete the survey. Few people are so altruistic that they will spend time for the advancement of knowledge or to pad the bottom line of the survey sponsor. “What’s in it for me?” they silently ask.

When you get right down to it, whatever has value in the invitation email could be reprised in the introduction. You could stress again the measures you will take to avoid disclosure of any personal data. You could reassure them about how long respondents typically take to complete the survey. You might estimate when they will receive the report, and whether cumulative reports will be released. It might also clarify whom they should reach out to if they have a question about the survey. Withal, the information potential respondents might want can make up both the invitation and the introductory welcome mat.

In my mind, the difference is that you can format the introduction in ways that emails, which are often viewed on cell phones, might not handle. The psychological tone also differs because the person has clicked on the link, which evidences interest, and you can pull them forward.

In other words, craft the introductory text to make people as comfortable as possible about the unknowns of the survey ahead. This is another tool to keep them going through your survey to the end; it should reduce attrition. That said, a trade-off lurks: too long an introduction and a busy respondent might stop reading and call it a day.

One final observation. A well-crafted introduction might be recycled in articles about the survey report or in thumbnail descriptions of the project for journalists.