Multiple Choice Questions
Multiple Choice Questions
Multiple Choice Questions in online surveys are a common type of question that presents a set of answer choices to respondents, with one or more correct answers. They are used to efficiently gather quantitative data and measure respondent preferences, opinions, and behaviors.
We’ve all been asked to fill out a multiple choice questionnaire at some point, or have been asked multiple choice questions as part of an examination. Multiple choice questions are a quick and easy way of getting answers out of people when time is limited. However, writing good multiple choice questions able to produce useful data and insights is harder than you might think. This article will explain some of the key features of a multiple choice question, show examples, explain when to use them and provide some tips on how to write them.
What is a Multiple Choice Question?
A multiple choice question consists of a stem and a set of answers. The stem is a question or statement presented to the respondent, to which the respondent then chooses one or more of the answers provided.
A multiple choice question should have at least three answers for the respondent to choose from. People often think of questions with “yes / no” or “true / false” to be multiple choice questions. However, questions with just two choices are not truly multiple choice but rather are known as dichotomous questions. The structure of a multiple-choice question is simply an extension of the “stem-and-answer” in a dichotomous question but with at least three rather than two fixed alternative responses.
The multiple choice question format has some key features compared to other market research question formats. These features provide clues as to when and how to use them, and include the time and effort required on the part of researchers, answer limitations, their appeal to respondents, analytical power and the absence of ranking.
Key features of Multiple Choice Survey Questions
Multiple-choice survey questions are a popular and widely used type of question in surveys, market research, and academic research. They offer a range of key features that make them a versatile and effective tool for collecting data on a wide range of topics.
Here are some relevant key features of multiple-choice survey questions:
Required researcher time and effort
The first thing to consider when discussing multiple choice questions is the upfront time and effort required on the part of the researcher. Multiple Choice questions are among the longest and most complex online survey question types a researcher can be tasked with. However, used properly, multiple choice questions can generate invaluable research and information.
The kinds of things researchers need to spend time on when designing these questions are:
- What are all of the possible answers a respondent may want to select?
- How do I ensure that answers are honest and representative?
- How do I avoid bias from leading questions?
The choice of answers from a multiple choice question are limited to those decided upon by the researcher in advance. This feature of multiple choice questions causes both advantages and disadvantages regarding the end research result. On the plus side, keeping answers to a limited set makes analysis of the results much easier than reading through and analyzing the unstructured answers from a free response question. Processing and categorizing results of a multiple choice question is more straightforward than those of free response questions.
On the downside, multiple choice responses by their nature limit the extent to which respondents can express themselves on a given question or statement. This limitation can lose some of the nuance that may be present in a respondent’s sentiment towards a given question or statement. Researchers need to consider whether a multiple choice question format is the right one for a given topic.
Their appeal to respondents
Less time and effort is required on the part of the respondent to complete a set of multiple choice questions compared to free response questions. This is because much of the thinking has already been done by the researcher in preparing the questions. As a result, respondents are more likely to agree to taking part, are likely to find the questionnaire easier to engage with and more likely to put effort into their answers.
The format of a multiple choice question allows quick and easy conversion into numerical data. This is particularly true of multiple choice questionnaires filled out online. The process of converting responses from multiple choice questions into data is simply a case of totaling up the number of answers in each question. In research filled out by many respondents, this allows deep insights through statistical analysis.
A well-thought out set of multiple choice questions helps to remove some of the ambiguity encountered when analyzing the results of qualitative questionnaires. This helps to avoid something researchers call “data smog”, wherein the information collected through market research is too cumbersome and prevents meaningful conclusions from being drawn.
Absence of answer ranking
Multiple-choice questions do not allow for ranking of answers. This precludes any inference on whether respondents feel a slight sentiment to one answer and a stronger sentiment towards another. In this respect, answers from a multiple choice question can be rather “black-and-white” and provide little by way of qualitative information. If such nuance is required, other more open question formats may be better suited.
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Types of Multiple Choice Survey Questions
There are four main types of multiple choice questions. These are a single-response question, a fixed k-of-n answer type question, a maximum k-of-n answer and a scale.
A single response multiple choice question is one which asks the respondent to choose one answer from a set of three or more possible answers. This is a very common form of multiple choice question, and one which generates answers easy to convert into data.
This type of multiple choice question asks respondents to choose a certain number of answers to a question. The instruction here may be to “Choose one of the following answers” or “Choose three of the following answers”.
Maximum k-of-n multiple choice questions ask respondents to choose any number of answer options up to a maximum. For example, this type of question might ask “Please choose up to 3 of the following answers”.
Scale-type multiple choice questions provide respondents with a scale to rate or grade how strongly they feel or don’t feel about a statement or question. For example, the scale may range from “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree”, or may simply be a range of 1-10.
Scale-type multiple choice question example:
Question: On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with your recent shopping experience?
- Very Dissatisfied
- Somewhat Dissatisfied
- Somewhat Satisfied
- Very Satisfied
This is a scale-type multiple choice question, where respondents need to rate their level of satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5. The answer options are ordered by degree of satisfaction, with option 1 indicating very low satisfaction and option 5 indicating very high satisfaction. By using a scale-type question, the survey can collect more nuanced and precise information about the respondent’s satisfaction levels than a simple yes/no question. Additionally, because the scale is consistent across all respondents, it can be used to compare and analyze responses.
When to Use Multiple Choice Questions?
At the start of a marketing research process, it is important to define the problem you are trying to solve and the objectives of the research. Doing this will help you to decide whether multiple choice is a good question format to use.
A common goal of the multiple choice question format in market research is to explore what respondents think or feel about a product or service, and to establish how and why they buy. Multiple choice questions are frequently used to study customer satisfaction and the purchasing behavior of customers, product pricing, product distribution and effectiveness of promotion activities.
Multiple choice questions are also particularly useful when the objectives of research expect a large population to be surveyed. The speed and ease at which respondents can answer multiple choice questions encourages respondents to engage, increasing the number of data points. The ease by which multiple choice questions can be converted into data also means that researchers can process large numbers of questions from a large population.
If your market research process and goals indicate a need for detailed answers from parts of your market, multiple choice questions would not be an ideal solution. Detailed information is best gathered from respondents through free response questions.
Quick Tips for Writing Good Multiple Choice Survey Questions
Here are some tips for writing a good multiple choice question.
- Simple and accessible vocabulary
- Easy-to-understand questions
- Well-defined, mutually exclusive answers
- Impartial questions and answers
- Include plausible distractors
- Avoid including “umbrella” answers
- Mixing up the orders of answers
Syntax and vocabulary used in questions and answers should be easily accessible. Questions or answers using complex language may cause respondents to lose interest.
Questions should be easy to understand and clear in what they mean. There should be no ambiguity in the meanings of questions (or answers), and they should be easy to interpret.
A good multiple choice question will have a set of answers that are well-defined, and which are mutually exclusive. This means a respondent choosing one answer naturally prevents them from choosing another. Non-exclusive answers lead to frustration in the respondent.
Ensure that questions are not leading, and that respondents are left to make up their own mind about the answer to choose. Make sure that the range of answer options given to the respondent represent the range of possible answers they may give.
Plausible distractors are answer options which are either incorrect or which a respondent is unlikely to choose. Including these in answer options causes respondents to think about the question, even if they know that the distractor is incorrect or an unlikely option.
Umbrella answers are things like “all of the above” or “none of the above”. Avoiding these is advisable for two reasons. Firstly, these answers do not provide insight into the thoughts of the respondent. Secondly, these answer options give respondents a way of rushing through the questionnaire without thinking too much about the questions.
This is particularly important when writing multiple choice questions where there is a “right” answer but can also be important for questions asking about habits. For example, in many cases there will be an “expected” answer which a researcher may believe to be the most common response. The ordering of this expected answer should be varied throughout a multiple choice questionnaire to ensure that respondent answers are truthful.
Multiple choice is a popular question format in questionnaires and exams. It takes effort on the part of the researcher, but this effort is rewarded by a greater chance of respondents taking part and responses that are easy to convert into numerical data. Multiple choice is therefore a good option for low-cost statistical analysis.
It is important to get the question-answer format right if a multiple choice questionnaire is to give you data that represents the respondents’ thinking. Simple language, clear questions and answers, mutually exclusive answers and impartial questions will all help to ensure that a multiple choice question is effective.Learn about further Online Survey Question Types
FAQ on Multiple Choice Questions
What are multiple choice questions?
Multiple choice questions are a question format comprising a stem and a set of possible answers. The stem is a question or statement proposed to the respondent and may ask the respondent a question about their habits or how they feel about a statement. The respondent can choose from the answers provided.
How do you write a multiple choice question?
Multiple choice questions can be written by deciding on the question or statement as the stem, choosing an appropriate set of possible responses and deciding on question type (e.g. single response, fixed response or multiple response. A good set of multiple choice answers are mutually exclusive.
What are the four types of multiple choice questions?
The four types of multiple choice questions are single response, a question asking for a fixed number of responses, a question asking for a maximum number of responses and one with a scale as the set of answers.
What is the most common multiple choice question?
The most common multiple choice question is one with a dichotomous “true / false” set of answer options. However, most multiple choice questions have at least three options.
Why are multiple choice questions good?
Multiple choice questions remove ambiguity from answers making the results of the research easy to convert into numerical data for analysis. The appeal to respondents of multiple choice questions also means that there is more data, because more people are taking part. This adds to the analytical power of the multiple choice format.