Choosing the Right Question Type

Choosing the Right Question Type

Trying to write your online survey but no idea where to begin? Here are some pointers to help you get started. After listing down your goals and objectives for your survey, you now have to write and edit your list of questions to extract relevant data from your respondents in the best way possible.

It is not always easy to get respondents to answer a survey, so make sure you are using the right sort of questions to get the most out of the time they spent on you. Apart from avoiding one of the most common pitfalls in survey writing, you will also learn key differences between common survey question types.


Radio Buttons vs. Checkboxes

Nowadays, free online survey tools allow you to easily create checkboxes and radio buttons without having to code them yourself. But this does not mean you should be using one or the other without really considering what they are for.

Radio buttons are best used for questions that require just one answer, since you can only select one answer from the list. For example, if you want to know how satisfied a customer is with your product, you can use radio buttons for selecting Extremely Unsatisfied, Unsatisfied, Do Not Know, Satisfied, or Extremely Satisfied. If you want to give your respondents an option to include their own answer, just have the last radio button labeled as Other followed by a text field for them to enter their preferred answer.

Checkboxes are best used for questions that allow for multiple answers. For example, if you want to get the top three choices of a respondent when it comes to their favorite subjects at school, you could use checkboxes to let them choose their preferred subjects. You can also label the last checkbox as Other followed by a text field to accommodate additional input or a non-listed subject.


Open-ended Questions vs. Closed-ended Questions

Open-ended questions are questions without a pre-defined list of choices. This is where you either get a lot of detailed information from your respondents or you get very short replies such as Great, Ok, Not so good, Bad experience.
This is a double-edged sword. You can get really good, detailed and descriptive insights from an inspired customer, which you can eventually quote and share to your staff. Or your can get very short, vague and broad statements which are difficult to quantify.

Close-ended questions are questions with a defined list of options, either via a dropdown menu, radio button selection, or checkboxes.

It is best to use close-ended survey questions if:

  • You want to quantify your data
  • You want to rank the answers to the questions
  • You want to limit the options of your respondents

While it is best to use open-ended survey questions if:

  • You want to get extra information from your customers
  • You want to encourage out-of-the-box replies to standard questions
  • You are ok with getting occasionally broad and sweeping statements

Usually, free online survey tools allow you to create both, so there is virtually no limit as to what type of survey questions to send out. You can also mix the two types of questions. For example, you can concentrate on your first 8 questions as close-ended questions and then use 2 open-ended questions at the end.


Ratings vs. Yes/No

Another type of reply from survey questions is via a rating scale. This rating scale can be as short as Yes or No, or it can be as detailed as a scale of 1 to 10.

Yes or No questions are best used for instances where you do not want or do not need additional clarity or elaboration on your results. When a simple yes or no answer is fine with you, then go with this very quick route. For example:

  • Is this your first time to dine in this restaurant?
  • Have you bought a product from our online store before?
  • Do you have a broadband connection at home?

Use a rating scale if you want to give your users more options and gauge their level of interest in a product. Here are some sample questions:

  • How likely are you to use our free online survey tool? (Highly likely, Do not know, Highly unlikely)
  • How happy are you with your experience today? Rate from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest
  • How do you like the ambiance in this café? (Love it, Like it, I don’t really care, Do not like it, Hate it)

You can go as formal or as casual as you like with your survey, as long as you remain consistent in tone and it matches the overall product branding and image.


Ask One Thing At a Time

One of the most important things to remember is to ask only one thing at a time. When you want to ask about how clean the restaurant looks, break it down to the key sections: the receiving area, the dining area, and the restrooms (if available). This will help you get a concise and accurate picture of each area.

Creating surveys is easy – it is the art of writing the appropriate types of questions that matters the most.

What are your experiences with choosing a right or wrong question type? Share your wisdom in the comments and teach us, master!

Photo credit: Patil Makarand (thanks, Patil)

Deanne Dalisay
Dec 13, 2013
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