Include All Valid Response Options in Survey Questions

When creating survey questions, include all valid survey response options

Do you see a problem with this survey question?

What is your favorite fruit?

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches

There are several issues with the response options to the above question. What if respondents favor fruit like watermelon, raspberries, pineapple, etc.? There are so many kinds of fruits, yet this question does not allow respondents to select these options. A simple “other” response option could have been used, or an “other, please specify” option with a space for respondents to provide their own answer. Aside from the “other” response option, this question does not allow a respondent to select a “none of the above” option. Additionally, some questions should include response options “don’t know” and “not applicable.”

For every question, there should be valid response options for every respondent. If a respondent cannot find a valid response to a survey question, they may become frustrated and either provide inaccurate data or abandon the survey all together. Omitting valid response options can become especially problematic if an answer to a question – often in an online survey or telephone interview survey – is necessary in order for a respondent to proceed to the next question in a survey.

Furthermore, ensure that your single-response survey questions are actually single-response questions, not multiple-response questions. Here is an example of a question that should allow respondents to choose multiple-responses.

What time of the day do you check your email?

  • Morning
  • Midday
  • Evening
  • I do not use email

Respondents may check emails multiple times throughout the day. If this is the case, they will need to be able to select multiple-responses. If you are just looking for a single answer, consider rewording the question to a single-response question such as, At what time of the day do you first check your email? Additionally, when used as a multiple-response question, the response option “I do not use email” should be exclusive – all other response options invalid if the respondent selects “I do not use email.”

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