Multiple Choice Questions

When it comes to your survey questions, it’s important to get off to the best possible start, if you’re to attract, engage and encourage respondents to progress deeper into your survey.

Not only do your questions need to look enticing, but they also need to be as quick and as painless as possible to take, which is why multiple choice questions are a great option to start your survey with.

What are Multiple Choice questions?

As a member of the closed-ended family of questions, multiple choice questions are among the most commonly used and popular survey question types.

They allow your respondents to select one or more options from a list of answers that you define. They’re intuitive, easy to use in different ways, help produce easy-to-analyse data and provide mutually exclusive choices.

Pros and Cons of Multiple Choice questions

The reason why multiple choice questions are popular is due to the many benefits they offer survey takers and survey creators alike.

The Advantages

Here’s some key benefits of multiple choice questions.

Quick and simple to answer

As long as you’ve used clear language and you’ve provided easy to follow answer options for your respondents to select from, then multiple choice questions should be quick and simple for them to complete.

You can potentially ask more questions

Considering how long it would take someone to answer a free text open-ended question, if your survey included just multiple choice questions, which are a lot quicker to answer, you could potentially include a lot more questions in your survey.

Mobile friendly

Compared with other questions types, notably ones with text boxes, multiple choice questions are much easier to complete on smartphones and tablets. And when you consider that Brits are now spending 2½ hours online on their smartphones daily, it’s more important than ever to ensure your online survey is simple to complete on a mobile device.

Simple to analyse

When you’ve only given respondents a finite list of answers to choose from there are no worries about having to deal with irrelevant or stupid answers that you might face with an open-ended question.

Subsequently, your data will be much easier to analyse, interpret and draw conclusions from.

The Disadvantages

Despite the many benefits of multiple choice questions, they do have some shortcomings, so it’s prudent to be aware of these before planning your next survey.

They can be time-consuming to create

Although they’re quick to process, given the many types of multiple choice questions that are available, and the many options and steps you need to go through, multiple choice questions can take a bit longer than other question types to set up. So, it’s best to be aware of this before you get started.

The data they produce is solely quantitative

If you’re after data that is quick and simple to gather, and draw insight and conclusions from, then quantitative data is ideal for you.

However, if you’re looking to get a deeper insight into the reasons and motivations why people have answered in the way they have, you’re not going to get that with multiple choice questions. Instead, you would need to include open ended questions that would encourage respondents to leave this kind of qualitative feedback.

They can limit the respondent in their answers

Depending on what your survey is about, there can be some occasions when there’s not a suitable answer available from the options you have provided for a respondent to select. In this case it can be helpful to provide them with an ‘other’ option textbox after your question.

How to use Multiple Choice questions

When you’re considering multiple choice questions for your survey, it’s important to be aware of the options open to you.

There are two main types of multiple choice questions, single answer and multiple answer. Lets look at each in turn…

Single answer questions

Multiple choice – one answer questions, are where a list of options is presented to a respondent and that respondent can only choose one answer.

They’re typically used for binary answers, like yes/no, questions with ratings, or nominal scales. They’re best suited to situations where only one answer can be true, or when you’re asking people to reveal how much they agree or disagree with something you have presented to them, such as you would with a Likert scale question.

A good example is the age question, commonly asked in surveys.

Let’s say you’re running GP patient survey and wanted to find out about the experiences of your patients. You might start off with an age group question as follows:

How old are you?

Multiple answer questions

In contrast to single answer, multiple answer questions present respondents with a range of answer options from which respondents can choose one or more answers. They are ideal for situations where you’re looking to understand several contributing factors or measure awareness among your participants.

For example, if you were a small mobile brand thinking of launching a new phone to the market, you might run a brand awareness survey first, to see how recognition of your brand name compared with some of the larger brands in the market.

In such a scenario one of your questions could be as follows.

Which of these mobile brands have you heard of?

Matrix questions

There may be times when you want to want to ask a series of questions on the same topic, and want your respondents to answer your questions using the same format, whether that’s agree/disagree options, or rating questions with the choice of 1 to 5.

By grouping together questions with the answer options labelled only once, the matrix question looks like a table. It’s presented in this way to make it simpler for respondents to read.

For example, let’s say you ran a hotel and regularly distributed a customer satisfaction survey to departing guests to measure how happy they were with their recent stay. Using a series of criteria to measure their satisfaction levels, you might present them with a matrix question such as the following:

Please rate the quality of your recent stay for each of these criteria.

Depending on the requirements of your research and survey, there may also be occasions when you want to present respondents with an array of answer choices, which may require them to provide multiple answers on each row.

For example, if you were running a product research survey it might be that you were looking at introducing a new cereal product to the market but wanted to examine the breakfast eating habits of a large group of respondents, before committing to introducing it. In such a scenario, you might want to present them with a matrix questions similar to the following.

Over the past week which of the listed foods have you eaten for breakfast on the following days.

Dropdown questions

You could also present questions to respondents in a format that asks them to select their answer from a drop-down menu. This sort of question works well when the respondent needs to scroll through a long list of potential answers to choose the option that best applies to them, such as if they were asked to select the local authority that they lived in.

Ranking questions

Another option to consider is the ranking question. With this question type a respondent is presented with a question and list of answer options that they are then asked to place in a ranked order. The respondent can answer by choosing a rank number from a drop-down or dragging and dropping.

Asking respondents to rank things in order of their personal preference, makes this a simple question for respondents to understand and execute.

Best practices when using multiple choice questions

While this introduction to multiple choice questions, should provide you with a good overview of the types of multiple choice questions available and when to use them, it’s also important to ensure that you’re writing and setting them up in the right way. Not only will this ensure they’re easy and engaging for your participants to take, but they’ll be more likely to give you the data you’re looking for.

So, here’s a few best practice tips to think about when you’re working with these survey question types.

Carefully select your questions

From single or multiple answer, to a matrix, drop down or ranking question. Think carefully about your choice of question and what would work best in terms of your respondent’s understanding and answering of your questions, as this can make a huge difference to the data you’re ultimately able to collect.

Make any rating scales clear

If any of the questions you create offer rating scales, you need to make it as clear as possible for respondents to understand how the numbers on your scale relate back to what you’re trying to measure.

So, if you were running a customer service survey and wanted people to rate how happy they were with your company’s customer service, you might ask them to rate this on a scale of 0-10. In such a scenario you would need to spell out what ends of your scale represented extremely happy or extremely unhappy, before getting them to answer.

Where appropriate offer the ‘other’ option

Multiple choice questions are by nature restrictive with respondents only able to select their answer from a list of pre-defined choices. While most of the time this will work ok, in some circumstances, where some of your respondents may struggle to pick an answer that corresponds to their opinion or experience, you may have to provide them with an ‘other’ option textbox after your question.

Double check and test your survey first

If you want to maximise your chances of a high completion rate and valuable insights, you need to ensure your survey is as good as you can make it before sending it out.

The best way to ensure this is to test your survey with a sample of people before you send it out for real, incorporating any standout feedback you receive.

This will help to ensure you’ve thought of everything you need to cover off and that your questions and answers are easy to understand.

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