I’m Susan Kistler, AEA’s Executive Director, and contributor of each Saturday’s aea365 post. Many moons ago, I taught survey design and worked as a consultant and trainer with a focus on evaluation planning and instrument development for nonprofit grantees. Today, I want to draw on that background to start an intermittent series on online surveying and to talk about one of the basics of online survey development – getting categorical and multiple choice questions in the right format for the online environment.
Hot Tip – Creating Categorical Questions: When you have a question for which you want respondents to choose one (and only one!) answer from a pre-defined list, the most common options are to use questions with radio buttons or, usually for a longer list, a pull-down menu. Here is an example of each from a post-course survey.
Lesson Learned: When a respondent selects a second answer, or changes an answer, for a forced-response question in either format, any other answers will automatically be deselected.
Lessons Learned: Radio buttons look like little bullets or unfilled dots. These are a consistent visual cue to your respondents that they can and should select only one answer.
Hot Tip – Creating Multiple Choice Questions: When you have a question for which you want respondents to choose one or more answers from a pre-defined list, the most common option is a checkbox question, such as the following:
Lesson Learned: When a respondent selects a second answer, or changes an answer, when using a checkbox question, any previous responses remain selected.
Lessons Learned: Checkbox questions put a little checkbox to the left of each response option and insert checks in those boxes when selected. These are a consistent visual cue that it is acceptable to select more than one response – but it is still good practice to note that multiple selections are ok in the question instructions.
Hot Tip – Just say no! In some survey programs, you can set a pull-down menu to allow for more than one answer by having your respondents hold down a special key such as Ctrl or Shift when making a second (or third…) selection. I don’t recommend this for two reasons – (i) since pull-down menus are predominantly used for single selection responses, users reading quickly are likely to choose only one response; and (ii) the secondary selection keys often do not translate consistently (if at all) across web browsers, hardware (mac vs pc), and reading devices – especially mobile devices such as iPads.
Rad Resource: Amy Germuth offered a great workshop on Improving Survey Quality at this year’s AEA/CDC Summer Evaluation Institute. She has graciously shared her handouts here in the AEA Public eLibrary. While not explicitly focused on online surveying, her guidance is broadly applicable.
Coming Soon: Formatting qualitative response questions and key terms in online surveying
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