Guide to the Five Types of Survey Questions

Have you ever sat down to create a survey and realized that every word you use matters? Seriously, your words, question order, and answers shape how each person takes that survey. If you don’t pick carefully, you could create either a biased or meaningless survey. The worst thing you could do is spend time creating a survey you can’t even use the results from.

That being said, the best way to start your survey is to understand each part of it. The most important part is formulating and choosing your questions.

For starters, there are five main types of survey questions. Keep in mind that each type of question collects a different type of data.

1. Open-Ended Questions

This type of question is used to gain more insight into how the respondent feels. These require a lot of attention, so only use them when it really makes sense. Open-ended questions are helpful because the respondent’s answer is not based on the researcher’s assumptions. Instead, it’s a personalized answer every time. These questions are more time consuming to analyze but provide real feedback.

Example:

Do you have anything you would like to share with us?

2. Multiple Choice Questions

This question type is often used to gather demographic information or to find out about a range of issues. Multiple choice questions can require a single answer or offer multiple answer selections. Use these to group people based off of what you already know. For instance, if there are only five color choices available and you are polling your attendees on their favorite, only list those five options.

Example:

What is your marital status? (Select one)
– Single
– Living with Partner
– Married
– Divorced
– Separated
– Widowed

3. Ordinal Scale Questions

This question type asks respondents to rank a range of items or choose from an ordered set. This is helpful when you want to find out the importance level of each individual. Make sure to identify your number scale (1 being the first choice and 5 being the last choice etc.).

Example:

When considering a job offer, please rank the importance of the following (Please fill in your rank order using numbers 1 through 5 with 1 being the most important):

– Positive working environment
– Salary
– Benefits
– Vacation time
– Challenging workload

4. Interval Scale Questions

This is the most commonly used question type. On an interval scale, it is important that the space between each option, whether it’s a number range or a feeling range, are equal. Many of you have probably seen scales asking about agreement strength, likelihood, or satisfaction (i.e. very unsatisfied, unsatisfied, neither satisfied nor unsatisfied, satisfied, very satisfied).

Use these questions when you want to gauge the opinion of your respondents. How do they feel when it’s measured out in front of them?

Example:

Please rate the quality of this event.

Very Poor | Poor | Satisfactory | Good | Excellent

5. Ratio Scale Questions

This question type asks respondents to respond in a measurable way. You’ve likely seen ratio scale questions about income, age, or hours spent. Ratio scale questions have a true zero, and oftentimes will be presented in an ordinal way with ranges. However, these ranges can still be treated as ratio responses for analysis.

Example:

How many hours a day do you spend on a computer?

0-2 hours/2-4 hours/4-6 hours/more than 6 hours

Selecting the correct question type is an essential part of any survey design. Carefully consider the question type(s) in your next survey in order to obtain significant data.

 

For more on surveys, read Online Survey Best Practices.


Caroline Howard

Written by Caroline Howard

Northern Virginia native turned southerner at The University of South Carolina. My skills include planning 4,000 attendee corporate events and then blogging about them. My friends always ask where I am, because when I'm not behind my laptop writing, I'm off exploring new places like Cuba and Spain.