Question Type

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Open-Ended

Please enter the name of the last soft drink you bought.

_____________

Most data collection programs will let you constrain the type of responses. For example, when collecting numeric data, forcing respondents to provide a numeric response and perhaps limiting the range of possible responses:

How many glasses of wine did you drink last night? ____

Open-ended questions are the easiest type of question to ask. However, they should generally be used sparingly,[1] as they take longer for respondents to answer and many respondents will put so little effort into answering the questions that their data becomes unhelpful.

Single Response

Are you...

o Male

o Female

When writing a good single response question it is important to:

  • Ensure that each person will only fit into one and only one category.
  • Ensure that each person can find an appropriate category. Often this is achieved by leaving an "Other" option. It is typically a good idea to require that the respondent type what they mean into a box, as otherwise you can end up with a lot of responses that are not intepretable.
  • Where the question forces people to compare the options (e.g., Which of these best describes your personality?", provide a maximum of seven responses, as otherwise by the time people have gotten to the end of the list they will have forgotten the earlier responses).
  • Where the question is only requiring a simple act of recall (e.g., Where did you go for your last holiday), order the responses alphabetically so they can quickly find the appropriate response (this is particularly important when there are large numbers of options).

Multiple Response

This question type is also known as a pick any or a 'multi' or 'multicode' question.

Which of the following have you bought in the past week? Tick all that apply.

[] Coke

[] Pepsi

[] Fanta

[] None of these

Grid

There are a variety of questions which are referred to as 'grid' questions. They differ in terms of how they permit the respondent to choose options, with common alternative being to limit respondents to choosing a single option in each row, allowing them to tick multiple options in each row, sliders and text boxes for entering numeric responses.

One response per row

Please rate your satisfaction with the following restaurants

Low Medium High
McDonald's o o o
Burger King o o o
Wendy's o o o

Multiple responses per row

Which of these brands are 
        Fun  Sexy  Masculine 
Coke    []    []       []
Pepsi   []    []       []
Fanta   []    []       []

Typically such questions are best instead asked as a series of multiple response questions, as respondents can be daunted or confused by such a grid layout.

Numeric responses

In the past month, how many economy flights did you take on...
                  Qantas  United  SAS
Economy           ______  ______  ______
Premium Economy   ______  ______  ______
Business Class    ______  ______  ______
First Class       ______  ______  ______

Date

Date questions can either be similar or open-ended questions, such as in the example below, or can use a data selector (i.e., a calendar).

What is your date of birth?

____ / ____ / ____

Ranking

The simplest ranking questions use a series of open-ended questions: Rank the following brands according to how much you like them... Please place a 3 next to the brand you like most, a 2 in your next preferred brand and a 1 next to your least preferred brand.

Coke ____

Pepsi ____

Fanta ____

More sophisticated versions use dragging and dropping.

Constant-Sum

A constant-sum question asks the respondent to allocate a specific number of points, tokens, dollars or some other quantity across different alternatives. For example:

If you had $10 to spend on soft drinks, how much would you spend on each of the following?
__ Coca-Cola
__ Diet Coke
__ Coke Zero
__ Fanta

More advanced question types

There are many more advanced question types. Some of these are described in Advanced Questions and Questionnaires.

Next page

Phrasing the Question

References

  1. Converse, Jean M. and Stanley Presser (1986), Survey Questions: Handcrafting The Standardized Questionnaire. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
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