Survey Question Types: Useful Options For Your Next Survey
When it comes to creating your survey, you’ll find there are a wide array of questions you can potentially include in your questionnaire, each with their own particular strengths and uses.
While it may not seem obvious at first, the distinct differences between these question types can mean they’re each better suited to different situations and meeting different surveys objectives. Therefore, it’s useful to know a bit more about this, so you can select the best question types to meets your needs.
In this blog piece, we’ll outline some of the most common survey question types you could potentially use, as well as some additional tips to best enable you to deliver survey results that are unbiased and actionable.
Common survey question types
With more than 20 different question types available, SmartSurvey customers have a wide-range of options they can select, which can allow them to run projects ranging from customer, employee and market research surveys to more large scale and detailed projects such as CX and employee experience programmes.
However, here’s an overview of some of the more basic survey question formats and how to go about writing them:
By far one of the most commonly used question types in the online survey is the multiple-choice question, where a respondent is asked to select their answer from a range of possible options.
The great thing about this question type is how intuitive, quick and simple it is to use in a variety of different ways, while providing easy-to-analyse data.
A multiple-choice question can be formatted, so that it allows just one answer or multiple answers to be selected.
When writing a multiple-choice question, think carefully about the options you provide, as these will help to shape your results data.
To avoid any confusion, you also need to make it clear from the outset whether your respondent needs to pick (just one) or several (select all that apply) answer options to your question.
When it comes to your survey, there will be times when you will want to ask as many questions as you can, but in as short a time as possible for your respondents to answer. In such a scenario, a matrix style question, where a group of multiple-choice questions is typically displayed in a grid of rows or columns can provide a really effective option.
However, while they’re great in enabling you to quickly cover off a lot of questions in one go, in order to save respondent confusion, it’s important that the questions all relate to an overarching topic and each question is clearly distinguishable from each other.
A matrix table can potentially include a lot of information. So, it’s also prudent to try and keep your text as brief and focused as you can, with plain language and short, clear text.
As the name implies, ranking questions allow respondents to rank your question’s answers in their order of preference. This is typically done using an array of different interfaces including drag-and-drop, radio buttons, text boxes and more.
The great thing about this question type is that it’s really simple for you to view how respondents compare different individual elements alongside one another, such as a question which compares your brand with someone else's brand.
However, if you’re to get the maximum value from these questions, you need to explain and present them in the right way to respondents. This includes describing how the interface works and what the respondent should do to indicate their choice with an instruction such as: “drag and drop the items in the following list to demonstrate your order of preference.”
You also need to be clear about the order of any scales you’re using, clearly outlining which end is which. For instance you might say: “With the best positioned at the top, rank these items in order from best to worst.”
Closely linked to ranking questions, are semantic differential questions, otherwise known as Likert Scale questions.
The use of Likert scales is particularly effective when you’re trying to gauge your respondents’ opinions on a topic with opposing concepts, such as “Good” and “Bad”, and “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree”.
Given that this is also a fairly universal method of collecting data, Likert scales are also pretty simple for most people to understand. In addition, by using quantitative data like this, it’s pretty easy for the survey creator to draw conclusions from the data and present the results easily in graphical form.
Respondents answering Likert scale questions, are typically presented with a number of answer scale options ranging from 3 and 4-point to 5 and 7-point Likert scales. However, in order to reduce the amount of people only choosing the neutral middle option, you’re better off providing point scales at the higher end like the 5 or 7-point scales.
Graphical rating style questions, also known as sliders, are also another popular question type.
With the slider question respondents are encouraged to move a pointer or button along a scale, which is usually numerical, to indicate their answers. Such a simple to use question, that’s equally effective on desktop as it is on a mobile device, makes this a very useful question to include if you want to improve your survey’s engagement.
However, as with every survey question type, there are always additional things you can think about that can make it even simpler to use. In this case, depending on the demographic of audience you’re trying to reach out to, it’s always worth considering if you should add additional help text such as “click/tap and drag on the bar to select your answer.”
So, far we’ve been talking about question types that belong to the closed ended family, but there is also demand for open ended questions, otherwise known as text entry questions.
Compared with closed ended questions that focus on gathering quantitative data, which is more factual and statistical in nature, open ended questions are more interested in a respondent’s opinions and behaviour. At this point, following a question prompt, the open-ended question provides an open text comments box for the respondent to type in their thoughts to that question.
The open question is particularly valuable when you want to know the reasons behind why a respondent has answered in a particular way. But on the flip side they need to be used sparingly, as they take more effort to answer than closed ended questions. Consequently, if you include too many you may put more people off taking your survey.
While we’ve stated that the objective of open-ended questions is to get respondents to provide their thoughts, if you’re to receive the most valuable information that’s relevant to the survey’s objectives, your question still needs to be framed in a manner that's helpful to that. It also needs to provide as much background context as you can.
For example, rather than “How is our support service?”, you might be better off writing: “Based on your experience with us today, can you suggest any areas where we could be doing better?”
To explore more question types, why not take a look at our ‘Ultimate Guide to Online Survey Question Types’ in our ebook resources.
More tips to maximise your survey results
While the right question type can help maximise your engagement with respondents and provide a solid platform for meeting your survey’s objectives, the best results are only possible if you can ensure your survey results are unbiased and actionable. And this requires as many respondents as possible to complete your survey and to do so effectively.
Here are some tips to help you with that:
Keep your questionnaire short
It may sound obvious, but you really want to keep your questionnaire as short and concise as you can. This is because most long surveys are either not completed or filled in too quickly, which can harm the reliability of your results.
Web surveys do offer some advantages in this respect, as respondents typically can’t view all the survey questions at once. However, if your survey presents page after page of questions, has no visual indicator of the survey respondent’s progress or a timer of how much longer the survey will take, your response rate could drop off rapidly.
Ideally you want your survey to take less than five minutes to complete, which translates into about 15 questions. The average respondent is typically able to complete about 3 multiple choice questions per minute, while an open-ended text response question counts for about three multiple choice questions. However, this also depends, of course, on how complex the question is.
Consider using the funnel technique
To encourage respondents and to get as many of them as possible to complete your survey it can help to structure your questionnaire using the “funnel” technique.
Start with broad, general interest questions that are simple for respondents to answer. These questions serve to warm up a respondent and get them involved in the survey before giving them a challenge.
Once they’re warmed up respondents are ready to ask the most difficult questions, which take the most time to think about in the middle of your survey. Towards the end questions that are of broader interest and are easier to answer are included to help encourage respondents to finish off the survey. These last questions typically include demographic and other classification questions.
Think about using ringer questions
To further enhance interest and willingness to respond to surveys, questionnaires will often include ‘throw away’ or ‘ringer questions’. These questions are often generic or about hot topics of the day with little relevance to the survey, such as the following:
“Do you think of yourself as introverted or more extroverted?”
However, while these questions will definitely spice up a boring survey and re-engage respondents, they require valuable space that could be devoted to the main topic of interest. So, it’s best to use this type of question sparingly.
Bias can easily slip into a survey for a whole host of reasons, with the order that answers are presented in a question a good example of this.
We know that being the first on the list in elections increases the chance of being elected. Well, similar bias can occur in all questionnaires when the same answer appears at the top of the list for each respondent.
Fortunately, if you can deploy randomisation, this helps corrects this bias by randomly rotating the order of the multiple-choice matrix questions for each respondent.
Be mindful of your writing style
When it comes to the impact of your survey questions, the best ones are always easy to read and understand.
Go for simple sentences and easy answer choices, and don’t use big words. Simplicity is the key when it comes to engaging users and ensuring as many of them as possible complete it.
We hope you found his blog interesting to read and if you were not already, are now better informed about the most common survey question types available for you to use and how to ensure the most actionable survey results.
However, with so many different survey question types, it can take time and several surveys before you get fully accustomed to what’s available and what’s the most effective at delivering the survey results you need. But if you keep persevering, you’ll find the right mix for you.