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Response Rates and Completion Rates: Difference

Market research 04 12
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Completion rate and Response rates are frequently used in articles about surveys. However, it is important to know what the terms signify and the differences between them to use the words in their correct sense. 

Completion Rate and Response Rate have a similar objective, that is, with the higher rate you get better survey results. 

Response Rates and Completion Rates4


Response Rate

What is the response rate?

Though in description response rate may seem similar to completion rate, the former provides extensive insight about the accuracy of the survey data than the latter. 

Response rate accounts for the number of people who have completed your survey in comparison to the total no. of members of the sample. 


Response rate = No. of surveys completed/ total members in your sample

For instances,

No. of email survey sent = 700 

No. of emails opened = 450

No. of completed email surveys = 350 

So, according to the formula above, 

Response rate = 350/700 = 0.5

Response rate = 50%

Response rate is generally used when you have a fixed sample group. This means that when you have a defined sample with their email addresses or contact number, you can calculate the response rate accurately. 

Surveys embedded in pop-ups and websites can make it difficult to determine the number of visitors who saw the survey. This can lead to an unreliable response rate.

What causes Low response Rates?

Your sample group may not be interested in your survey.

It is often the case that the potential respondent is not interested to participate in the survey. This leads to low response rates. To solve this issue you need to research your target audience and then pick your sample group. 

  • Your emails are in the spam folder

How you present your survey, especially via email, is important. Make sure your emails don’t end up in the spam folder of the recipient. 

Brand your emails properly, provide your company logo and name to ensure the email is credible. You will also need to find a way to motivate them into completing the survey. Offer the participants incentives. Incentive often convinces people that time spent on a survey is worth it and they are not wasting their time. 

  • Non-response bias

Non-response bias occurs when members of certain demographic groups don’t participate in the survey. This also results in a low response rate. Non- response rates can be caused due to various reasons.

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Completion Rate

What is the completion rate?

The completion rate implies that only the respondents who have completed the survey fall under the category of completion rate. On an online survey, completion rate refers to the number of surveys completed against the number of respondents who opened the survey. 

The completion rate does not include the respondent who started the survey but did not complete it. Only the people who completed the survey fully can increase the completion rate.


Completion rate = no. of surveys completed/ no. of respondent who opened the survey

Number of email survey: 700

No. of people who opened the survey = 500

Completed surveys = 350

Following the formula above, 

Completion rate = 350/500 = 0.7

Completion rate = 70%

Completion rate can be used to measure any survey like email, website, or pop-ups because it only focuses on the people who have interacted with the survey. The completion rate does not include the total number of surveys sent but it relies on the people who have entered and completed the survey. 

What causes Low Completion Rate?

  • Poorly framed questions

Respondents are less likely to fill the survey if they cannot understand the questions. The confusion may arise from the poor use of words or the structure of the question. 

    • Don’t use conflicting words, or two questions at once. Separate the questions and keep them simple.
    • Don’t use hypothetical situations as a question. Use questions that your audiences have faced. 
    • Don’t ask leading questions. If you ask leading questions, respondents may drop the survey without completing it. 
  • Lengthy Survey

Too long a survey can also lead to a low completion rate. The respondents may find it exhausting if they have to scroll too many pages in a survey. If your survey ends up boring the respondents you will give them the reason to drop the survey.

  • Asking personal questions

Avoid asking questions on sensitive issues or personal information. Not every respondent will be willing to openly answer such questions for you. This will result in biased answers or a low completion rate. 

On the other hand, if it is necessary for you to ask such questions make sure you inform the respondents that their identity will be kept confidential. 

  • Wrong population

Only because everyone owns a smartphone does not mean that old people can answer your questions about smartphones. Your target group should be the younger generation and tech-savvy people who explore smartphones all day long.

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Improve your response rate and completion rate

Response rate: 

Make sure you test run your survey before you make it live. This will help you detect any error or bias that skews your survey result. Errors and undetected bias can hurt your data credibility and lead you to draw inaccurate results. 

Also, offer multiple channels to spread your survey. Other than emails, you can also embed the survey on SMS or social media platforms. This way you can reach more audiences and increase the chance of response rate. 

Completion rate:

 Keep your survey questions simple and short. Using multiple-choice questions often leads to a high completion rate. People find it easy to answer multi-choice questions because it takes less time. Also, make sure that the length of the survey is short. Ask relevant questions and limit the number of questions. 

Don’t ask long questions if it is possible to make them short. Keep the questions short but meaningful.

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The targeted response rate for an external survey can be kept between 10 to 15%, while for an internal survey it can be between 30 to 40%. 

The highest response rate for a well-optimized and distributed survey is 85% while the lowest is 2%.

In the case of online surveys, a completed survey implies the number of surveys filled out by the respondents against the total number of surveys opened and started by the respondents. 

It only focuses on the surveys which have been completed. The surveys which were started but left halfway are not recorded in the completion rate of the survey.

A low response rate can distort your survey result. It can make your original sample group smaller than it should be. As a result, low response rate harms the reliability of survey reports by causing trouble for the margin of error.

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