Using Skips in Surveys

One of the best ways to shorten a complex survey is to use skips, also sometimes called branching. This makes it a more relevant experience for respondents, as well as less effort—both factors which can impact your completion rate.

To skip or not to skip

As far as your research model, the issues are pretty straightforward:

  • Are there slices of my population who may not have an opinion on the topic?
  • Will it be a problem if someone unqualified is offered this question?
  • Is it a block of detailed questions or a single “If you marked x, ...” follow-up?

Most survey software provides some flavor of skip logic, so unless you’re on a very basic/free offering, a simple skip should be available. Note this is one of those features where the details can differ widely, so if you’re doing complex surveys make sure you get specifics before setting on an application.

Writing the skip question

Whenever possible, make the question a useful data point, not simply a throw-away used to trigger the jump. For example, if you’re conducting a community survey, you may ask:

Do you currently have children in school?



Simple, right? That works if you only care about current parents, but often it’s more complex. So instead you could ask:

Are you familiar with our community’s schools? Mark all that apply:

Preschool age children, or planning to have a family

Children in grades K-12 (including home schooling)

Older children who attended in our community

Employed by, or actively involved in our schools

Other, please specify:

Not familiar

Not only did you get more interesting information from the respondent—without having to ask a follow-up question—you also included several groups who may be very involved in your schools, even though they don’t have any children in grades K-12.

Need a Hand?

A little help can add a lot of polish—or just save hours and headaches:

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