Whilst the data you collect from an online survey is the real fruit of your efforts, the quality and applicability of that data is just as important. Data needs to be fit for purpose, and when we conduct online surveys using the wrong questions, and wrong question types, we may well end up with survey responses that don’t fit our purposes at all.
That’s why considering not only your survey’s questions, but the question types you use is imperative for collecting the data that’s custom fit for your company’s needs.

What are question types?

You may well be asking what we mean by question type. When creating surveys online using survey management tools (such as ours at Swift Digital) you should have access to a wide array of question types. Question types are the way in which questions – and the way they are answered – are stylised and formatted.

Using the correct question type to facilitate the type of data you want to retrieve from the question is vital for your survey’s usefulness, as well as ease of use for your respondents. For example, if you use the question type ‘text area’ – which is often used for a question that requires free hand typing as a response – for a question such as “do you like ice cream?”, the data you receive will be immeasurable in any useful way.

For the question “do you like ice cream?” is close ended, and it’s far more useful for you to use a multiple choice question type such as a drop down menu, or radio buttons, where you force respondents to choose either yes, no, or maybe. This will result in data you can meaningfully analyse. On the other hand, with a text area type question, you may well get respondents writing in “no” or “yes”, but you may also get responses such as “sometimes when it’s hot” or “only on Tuesdays”. This sort of data isn’t aligned with the original intent of the question.

You can see why taking time to choose the right question type for each question in your survey is very important when it comes to reaching your overall goals.

Here are 4 tips on the question types to use for your online surveys.

Closed questions are preferable to open questions when it comes to conducting surveys which are easy to fill out (for your users) and provide useful data (for your company). That’s why you’ll find yourself using multiple choice question types often in your surveys.

When it comes to multiple choice question types, you have a myriad of formats to choose from. Do you want respondents to be able to select more than one choice? Then checkboxes may make the most sense. Want to limit the choice to one option? You can use drop downs, or radio buttons. How you format your question will depend on the question you’re asking, and how you want to retrieve data from it.

Multiple choice: drop down, radio buttons, or checkboxes - how to choose?

When it comes to multiple choice question types, you have a myriad of formats to choose from. Do you want respondents to be able to select more than one choice? Then checkboxes may make the most sense. Want to limit the choice to one option? You can use drop downs, or radio buttons. How you format your question will depend on the question you’re asking, and how you want to retrieve data from it.

Drop downs are a useful question type if your question is multiple choice, and you want respondents to select just one option. As they obscure all options until the drop down menu is clicked upon, this question type works best for ‘no-brainer’ style multi-choice questions, where it’s not important for the respondent to mull over the different options. That’s why you’ll often find this question type employed for personal info type questions like Country or State of residence. There’s no need to see all the options; your respondent knows where they live.

Radio buttons are better for multiple choice questions where your respondents need to see all options and think upon which they’d most like to select. This is great for questions which require a bit of mulling over on the part of your respondents, for example “which is your favourite colour of the following options?”.

Essay vs single line text areas: when to use one over the other

When you do ask open questions – the kind where you are requesting free form writing – it’s important to distinguish between essay or text area question types.

We tend to use open questions when collecting data that is only useful when unique to each respondent. For example, respondent’s names, mobile numbers, or general feedback.

Single line question types are best for short answers, such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. These appear as a single line’s worth of text area, and as such don’t provide enough visible space for long form answers.

Essay question types appear as larger text areas, and encourage longer answers. These are appropriate when asking for further feedback for example, as respondents will require the freedom to write more than just a few words.

Within single line and essay type question types, you can use further formatting to control the type of data that is inputted. For example, if you’re collecting phone numbers, it makes sense to use a single line text area that accepts only numbers, not letters or other characters. This helps to ensure the data is in the format most fit for purpose.

When asking for feedback, try to use scales

Whilst asking for freely written feedback may work for suggestions, not all of your respondents will have enough time or even a formed opinion to want to provide all feedback in essay format. Instead, consider using scales to help your respondents easily ‘rate’ how they feel about your products, services, or whatever else. Like multiple choice question types, scales give a limited set of options, making it easier and more straight forward for respondents to provide their answer, as well as making the data easily measurable for your reporting and analysis purposes.

Scales are usually formatted horizontally, where the left hand side of the scale has the ‘negative’ answer, and the right hand side the ‘positive’. How many points along the scale there are is up to you. Scales are great for collecting feedback as they give a visual representation of negative to positive for your respondents, making it much easier to share feedback.

What are matrix questions? And when should you use them?

Matrix type questions allow for you to group together similar questions which all share the same options for answers. For example, you may be asking your respondents to rate your different products. The answers for each rating question are 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. 5 being positive, 1 being negative.

Let’s say you have 10 products. It’ll look much neater to group the 10 product rating questions together so that they share the rating format. It’s difficult to explain in words, so check out the screenshot.

Matrix questions are great for any group of questions which share the same rating style answer options. It looks far more slick than if each of the questions were its own standalone question; which can make your survey look longer, and clunkier.

Conducting your own branded, online surveys will give your company access to the exact data it needs to inform future strategy, and reach goals. But how useful your data is depends on the questions you ask, and how you format them.

Knowing what question types there are, and which ones to use to gather which type of data you need is imperative to reaching your survey’s aims. If you’re in need of some inspiration, check out Swift Digital’s survey portfolio to see how other brands – across the public and private sectors – format their questions.

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