There are a myriad of different question formats that you can use to structure your quantitative market research survey project. In this article, we’ll provide you with examples of common closed-text question formats so that you can feel confident in writing your question set. If you’d prefer to have us do the heavy-lifting, our research pros are happy to help! But if you’d rather do-it-yourself, we’re here to support you.
One quick note before we break down common question formats that quantitative researchers use for survey panel projects: not all survey tools are created equal when it comes to supporting different question formats and logic programming capabilities. This overview will cover the most popular and successful question formats - verify that your preferred survey tool supports your ideal question formats to avoid any frustration.
That being said, let’s dive right in! Feel free to click the link below to view each question format independently or read through the entire list.
Matrix questions are iconic in the survey world. Most of us think of matrix questions when we hear the word ‘survey’ - and for good reason! They can be useful in establishing the intensity of respondents’ behaviors and attitudes. With that said, be careful not to overuse matrix sets.
Because each line of a matrix requires individual input from our survey respondents, we consider each line of a matrix an individual question. Not to worry though: we understand that not all question formats are created equally which is why we take into account both the question count and estimated time to complete the survey when pricing survey responses.
When respondents see more than 5 matrix lines in a row, they can quickly become disengaged and even drop off of your survey altogether. Whenever possible, write five or fewer lines per matrix set to maintain respondent engagement levels. Break anything longer into multiple matrix questions and mix them in with other question types to boost respondent engagement.
It’s best practice to present the matrix rating scale in a logical order, such as Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree reading left from right. Be consistent in your rating scales throughout your survey, whether they read left from right or vice versa. Lastly, keep your matrix line items concise and clear -- don’t clutter the limited space with unnecessary words. Respondents often use their mobile phones to take surveys and cluttered matrix sets can lead to poor survey experiences for these users.
If matrix questions encapsulate the survey experience, multiple-choice questions are not far behind in terms of importance and relevance in the panel industry! This question format asks respondents to select a single response option out of a set list.
We’ve discussed common issues that researchers make when using this question format (and several others!) in another brief article, but one of the most important tips is to ensure there’s no overlap between numeric-based response options. Each numeric-based multiple-choice response option should have clear, defined boundaries. If you’re writing a text-based multiple-choice question, consider adding an ‘Other - write in’ field if you believe there may be responses that fall outside of your provided options. Your provided response choices should be the most likely selections; even open-text other field data falls prey to the limitations of open-text questions.
We recommend having 15 or fewer response options for this question format to keep questions concise and fully read by the respondent. Randomization can also help with the “top of list” bias given respondents tend to look for the first answer that is most-applicable, market it, and move on.
Text-based multiple-choice question:
What brand of desktop computer do you currently own?
- Other (write-in)
Numeric-based multiple-choice question:
Approximately how much did you pay for your last desktop computer?
Multi-select questions allow you to collect aggregated data about a respondent’s preferences and experiences in relation to a single topic. Not only can a multi-select question yield actionable data by itself, but its results can also set up more nuanced, personalized questions down the line using piping logic.
Multi-select questions allow respondents to select all applicable survey responses relevant to their lived experience and/or opinion. We recommend having no more than 15 response options per multi-select question. Some survey tools even allow for an ‘Other - write-in’ option as a response choice for this question format.
Ranking questions are great for gathering comparative data. This question format allows respondents to determine what response choice is most compelling relative to all response options in descending order of importance. Researchers often use ranking questions to determine what potential product features are most important to respondents, which can later inform product design and revision.
To garner the most value from your ranking questions, limit the number of response options to 5-7 per question. Asking respondents to rank too many options can quickly become a frustrating experience -- and when respondents are frustrated or confused, they disengage.
Rating questions give respondents the opportunity to indicate how compelling individual features or options are on a set scale.
For newer researchers, there may be some confusion regarding the difference between ranking and rating questions but we’re here to set you straight: both questions collect comparative data, but ranking questions force respondents to communicate the relative importance of each response option compared to the others.
Rating questions, on the other hand, allow respondents to rate individual options on an unchanging scale. We recommend that your rating scale have 5 options to allow for a clear neutral response.
Slider questions are a unique format most often used to gather information through numeric-based scales. We’ve also seen researchers get creative and use slider questions to measure respondents’ sentiments on a set scale.
If you’re using this question format for numeric-based outputs, take care that your slider is set to scale in appropriate intervals. Slider questions can be used successfully with short scale intervals (5 to 7-points) and with longer scales, such as 0-100.
With that being said, we don’t recommend using this question format with questions that don’t have a clear cut-off point, such as ‘in an average month, how many hours do you spend on the computer?’
Yes/No questions are single-select questions with two response choices: yes/no, true/false, etc. This question format excels as a simple qualifying question and is well-suited for logic programming. Because yes/no questions are limited in their response options, we recommend using this question format for questions that don’t require nuance or follow-up explanation.
Yes/no questions can also be useful in avoiding making assumptions about respondents. Use a yes/no question to establish a respondent’s opinion or experience, then follow up with a more detailed question.
Do you own a desktop computer?