Good Practice: Multiple Choice Type (Closed) Questions

If you use a question form that asks respondents to choose from a series of options think about the following:

  • Clearly state whether you want them to make just one selection or several (and state the maximum number of responses). Be aware, though, that allowing multiple selections can result in data that is harder to analyse than single option responses.
  • If at all possible, work with the respondent group – or, preferably, pilot your questionnaire with them first - to establish a full list of the possible responses they might want to make to the question. If you try and force respondents to choose from a series of options that they do not see as applicable or relevant to them they might get frustrated and give up.
  • At the same time, be aware that too many options can be confusing for respondents or make it difficult for them to choose or discriminate between. (Nobody said this questionnaire thing was easy!).
  • Beware of options that are ambiguous or overlap, especially if you are asking respondents to select only one choice. E.g. How do you relax? a) Playing football b) Playing team sports c) Going fishing d) hanging out with friends. (This question also only offers a very limited range of choices. What about people who enjoy birdwatching? Or walking? Etc.)
  • Always give respondents a get out – ‘other’ / ‘not applicable’ option, preferably in combination with a text box so that they can tell which option(s) you’ve missed out. This can help to reduce the options you offer respondents too. Again, consider which options might be most meaningful for your data and balance this against the need to limit respondents’ freedom to answer sincerely.