When we design a questionnaire, the general temptation is always to cover too much ground by asking everything that might turn out to be interesting. This must be resisted: in questionnaire design less is often more because long questionnaires can become counterproductive.
How long is the optimal length? It depends on how important the topic of the questionnaire is for the respondent. If we feel very strongly about something, we are usually willing to spend several hours answering questions. However, most questionnaires in the L2 field concern topics that have a low salience from the respondents' perspective, and in such cases the optimal length is rather short. Most researchers agree that anything that is more than 4-6 pages long and requires over half an hour to complete may be considered too much of an imposition. As a principle, I have always tried to stay within a 4-page limit: It is remarkable how many items can be included within 4 well-designed pages and I have also found that a questionnaire of 3-4 pages does not tend to exceed the 30-minute completion limit.
A further factor to consider is that if we are restricted in the time we can have access to the respondents, for example when we administer a questionnaire to learners during their teaching hours, the maximum length should be set with the slowest readers in mind. For example, in a national survey that involved the group-administration of a questionnaire in hundreds of primary school classes in various locations in Hungary (Dôrnyei & Clément, 2001; Dôrnyei & Csizér, in press), we could only negotiate a maximum of 30 minutes' access to the children. This meant that the questionnaire had to be cut down to three pages and an estimated 20-minute completion time in order to give everybody a chance to finish within the allotted time.
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