Survey Modes and Response Rates

Image courtesy Pixabay
Image courtesy Pixabay

We’ve discussed sample size for a representative snapshot of a population and the difference when wanting to keep a pulse on what your audience is thinking. Today, we will focus on different ways you can distribute your survey and the expected response rates.


Put simply, a survey mode is the way you decide to distribute your survey. In the field of research, survey modes generally stick to paper, telephone, email, online, or some combination of the various modes (called mixed mode). Recently, however, mobile has become a more accepted form of survey distribution and is now supported with research to back why mobile is a good mode of distribution.

Response rates means the number of responses received based on the number of surveys distributed.


Mobile and Online

By Axlbest (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Axlbest (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Recent research has shown that online and smartphone surveys get either about the same response rate or that smartphone surveys get a higher response rates. One study found that the same survey administered via web and smartphone each had about a 40% response rate. Another study found that if respondents were given the option, most chose to take the survey on their phones, resulting in a 57% response rate (and younger people were more likely to take the survey at all). Inviting respondents via SMS instead of email with a link also had higher response rates (51% versus 43%). The caveat is that the mobile surveys need to be formatted well to keep people from dropping out: this includes making sure scales are presented well and easy to choose from; open-ended text boxes aren’t too large; and limited scrolling for the user to access all of the questions (general rule of thumb is to keep it to two questions per page in a mobile survey). (Luckily for you, any survey created on QuestionPro looks great on mobile; you just need to remember to add enough page breaks for the optimal user experience.)

Telephone, Mail, and Mixed Mode

Generally, all other survey modes have lower response rates: between 10-20%, with telephone surveys getting about 20% response rates and mail surveys getting about 10% response rates. The rates can be higher if using a mixed mode method, such as calling respondents to follow up in they haven’t responded to the mail survey.

Final Considerations

Regardless how you slice it, if you are just throwing your survey to the wind and hoping people answer, without defining your audience or survey purpose, you’re going to get a poor response rate. The same goes for if your survey is poorly designed, such as being too long, having too many questions, too much text, or even just looking uninviting. For best results, define your survey purpose (what do you want to learn), keep it short, target the audience that will be responding, and then turn to either online or mobile delivery for your survey.