Fatigue After 20 Minutes

A recent Survey Sampling International white paper entitled “Questionnaire Length, Fatigue Effects and Response Quality Revisited” addressed survey choices and best practices and compared those responses to those of an identical 2004 investigation. Among many observations, the paper suggests that the tipping point for most questionnaire respondents is the 20 minute mark: “There is a critical point in online survey response when the fatigue effects become significantly more pronounced. That critical time is around the 20 minute mark.”

Once respondents have given twenty minutes of their time, it is possible that they not only drop out of survey participation (although most drop-out occurs at the interview halfway point, regardless of interview length), but they will also pay less attention, increase the speed of their responses, and lie. The paper suggests that survey best practices should be to keep survey length to less than twenty minutes.

Have you seen similar behavior in your research? Do tolerance levels vary by survey type? Methodology? Topic? What steps can you take to keep participants engaged?

About Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is Technology Specialist at Microsoft and a frequent contributor to Research Access.


  1. Absolutely have seen similar results. In fact, I’ve drawn my own conclusions for the 15 minute mark.

    As always, I hesitate to say that responders are lying. That implies that they are at fault when, in fact, we researchers are the ones who wrote the surveys that are too long, too boring, too irrelevant, and too difficult.

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