Progress Bars: Do they Help or Hurt Respondent Experience in Surveys?

Have you ever taken an online survey? Did you ever notice a little bar at the bottom of the screen filling up as you answer questions? 

That is a progress bar.  

Progress bars are designed to help respondents understand the amount of the survey they have completed. Or, if you are anything like me, it gives respondents an indication of how much of the survey is left.

Progress Bars: Do they Help or Hinder Respondent Experience in Surveys?

When conducting an online survey, the respondent experience should always come first. Does adding a progress bar help or hurt completion rates? Our research analysts settle this age-old debate.

What are progress bars?

Progress bars help respondents understand how quickly they are progressing through the survey. Before clicking on an online survey link, respondents should be informed of the approximate amount of time needed to complete the survey. 

However, survey length depends on a plethora of variables. For example, if some questions are answered in a specific manner it can either lead to more or less follow up questions. This can make the bar progress move more slowly or quickly than expected, which can be frustrating for respondents. 

Enter the progress bar debate. 

Do they help or hinder your respondent experience? Do progress bars, or a lack of a progress bar, deter people from taking surveys? 

Every survey market research firm, small or large, has encountered this problem and tried to solve it. Some include progress bars and others have completely omitted them from surveys. 

Are progress bars effective? 

Progress bars can be extremely effective in letting the respondent know how much of the survey they have left. However, progress bars can deter respondents from finishing surveys because they see how much more they have to complete. 

Ideally, progress bars are used to keep respondents engaged and keep track of how much of the survey they have completed. 

How does our online survey research company utilize progress bars?

Every research analyst at Drive Research builds their own surveys. How we build and model our surveys depends on several factors. This includes survey length, type, market, and analyst discretion.

Our analysts, based on their personal opinion and length of the survey, may choose to include or omit a progress bar. Most include progress bars in more traditional surveys that do not have extensive routing (i.e., follow-up questions based on responses). 

When surveys become more complicated it can affect progress bars. This will usually lead an analyst to not include a progress bar in a survey. However, the final decision is the opinion of the analyst. Some think they are helpful, others are against them full-heartedly. 

Learn more about our online survey research company. 

Opinion and Office Poll 

What does Drive Research do best? Market research! Is there a better way to get a conclusive answer to the progress bar predicament than to ask our analysts? 

We asked our analysts to answer the following two questions:

  1. Do you like to include progress bars in your surveys? 
  2. Do you think that progress bars are helpful? 

Do you like to include progress bars in your surveys?

The outcome of the office was split. Some said that if a survey is short, there is no need for a progress bar as it will be over quickly. Progress bars can also be avoided by just telling the respondent in the introduction approximately how long the survey will take.

Respondents don't always trust the length of the survey because they can be misled by progress bars.

It’s also important to consider how progress bars draw respondents’ attention to the number of questions they have left. It can be argued that respondents have a better experience when they don't know how long is left. 

With incentive-based surveys, analysts are more likely to include progress bars.

Respondents want to see how much more they need to complete before their incentive is granted. It is good to include progress bars when the survey is mid-length and does not include many open-ended questions that could add time to the survey experience. 

Do you think that progress bars are helpful?

Progress bars are undoubtedly a great tool in accurately showcasing how far along a respondent is in a survey. However, online surveys that include extensive routing can mislead a respondent because the scale of the progress bar will adjust accordingly and not always progress as expected.

Sometimes it is hard to find people to take surveys.

Reminding them constantly that they have only completed another 3% of the survey can make them rush through the survey or deter them from taking the survey completely. 

Progress bars can also confuse respondents because open-ended and follow-up questions can make a survey 10 questions for one participant and 30 for another.

In an instance like this, the progress bar does not adjust, it corrects its percentage which can throw off the respondent and make them less likely to complete the survey. 

Overall, progress bars can be a helpful indicator to survey respondents. However, progress bars can be confusing when a survey has several open-ended and follow-up questions. 

It’s completely up to the survey writer to determine if a progress bar will help or hurt the overall experience for respondents. Drive Research wants every respondent to have a good experience, which means we need to make sure our surveys are clear, concise, and not confusing.

Here are 5 tips to help write a better survey.

Contact Drive Research

Drive Research is a national market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team of research analysts can help write and program the perfect online survey for your specific team, objectives, and project needs.

Interested in conducting an online survey with Drive Research? Contact us through any of the four ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
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