Types of survey questions 

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There are many types of survey questions, and each has pros and cons. The type of information you need, the depth of information you need, and the amount of time your respondents have available will all influence your choice of survey type. This guide will introduce you to some of the most common types of survey questions.

Closed-ended questions

Four types of closed-ended questions are most commonly used: rating scale, forced choice, dichotomous and demographic/firmographic questions (firmographic data is concerned with company or industry type, size, etc.). It should be noted that by making sure that the scales of a question are the same for all questions, the ratings can be directly compared with each other (e.g. a score of 3 out of 5 is not the same value as 3 out of 12).

Rating scale questions

Respondents assess the issue based on a given dimension. Two frequently used types of rating scale questions are Likert-type scales and semantic differential scales.

When using a rating scale, you may want to use the balanced scale method. A balanced scale gives the respondent an equal number of positive and negative choices, with each point holding the same amount of weight. Balanced scales allow respondents who have no strong feelings about the question to select a neutral response, instead of forcing them to choose a response that does not match their feelings.

Likert-type scales

Respondents are asked whether they agree or disagree with a statement. Each option is given a score, which can be used to analyze results.

Example:

Using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means strongly agree and 5 means strongly disagree, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

  1
Strongly
agree
2
Agree
 
3
Neither agree
nor disagree
4
Disagree
 
5
Strongly
disagree
I enjoyed my
experience staying
at the hotel.
         
I felt that the staff
were polite and
helpful
         

Pros:

  • Very flexible — you can measure broad areas or look at specific facets of your business
  • More precise than “yes/no” or “true/false” questions
  • Easy to compile and understand results

Cons:

  • Does not address the issue of “why”
  • Requires development work before the survey to identify the most important facets to measure

Semantic differential

In a semantic differential scale, each end of the scale marked is with different or opposing statements.

Example:

“On a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 is short and 7 is long, how would you describe the amount of time you had to wait for service?”

Pros:

  • Can assess an intuitive or conceptual response to a product or service
  • Easy to compile results

Cons:

  • Depending on the number of options, it can be difficult for respondents to choose a response
  • Can be hard to gauge the meaning of responses — one customer may classify a 2 minute wait as “long”, another could classify the same wait time as “short
  • Does not address the issue of “why”

Multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions ask the respondent to choose between two or more answer options. Questions can be as simple as “yes/no” or can give a choice of multiple answers.

Example:

Where would you prefer to go on vacation?

   A. Western Canada (BC, AB, SK)
   B. Central Canada (MB, ON, QC)
   C. Eastern Canada (NB, NS, NL, PEI)
   D. Northern Canada (YT, NWT, NU)

Pros:

  • Easy to answer
  • Allows you to easily compile and analyze results

Cons:

  • May not give the respondent the answer they want (in the above question, for example, the respondent might not want to go on vacation in Canada at all)
  • Does not address the issue of “why”

Rank order questions

Rank order questions require the respondent to choose among a set of alternatives.

Paired comparisons — Respondents must choose between two alternatives.

Example:

"When you are deciding which brand you are going to purchase, which is more important: price or quality?"

Pros:

  • Can assess rank ordering of objects and identify degree of difference between objects
  • Forces discrimination among alternatives

Cons:

  • Limited number of options
  • Does not address the issue of "why"
  • Tends to have decreased reliability for mid-range responses

Forced preference rank order — Respondents must choose among several alternatives.

The forced-preference ranking approach requires sequential ranking from high to low until all factors are ranked.

Example:

"Look at the list of items and rank them from most useful to least useful.”

Pros:

  • Enables identification of “best” and “worst”
  • Forces discrimination among alternatives

Cons:

  • Limited number of alternatives
  • Does not address the issue of “why”
  • Can be fatiguing for respondent

Dichotomous questions

Respondents must choose between two alternatives.

Example:

“In the past 30 days, have you seen or heard any advertising for ______? Yes or no?”

Pros:

  • Quick
  • Does not allow for ambiguous answers

Cons:

  • Does not allow for a certain degree of sensitivity and differentiation

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions ask respondents to supply their own answer. No pre-defined answers are given, so respondents are free to write what they want.

Example:

"What could we do to make your experience more enjoyable?”

Pros:

  • Allows respondents to define central issues
  • Addresses the issue of “why”

Cons:

  • Can be time consuming for respondents
  • Can be difficult to compile and analyze results
  • Asking more than one question at once can confuse results
  • Asking leading questions can makes results less reliable
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