The Art of Surveys: Types of Survey Questions & Their Infinite Uses

/ product
Vrinda Singh

Ever been sucked into completing a 30-minute personality survey? You're not alone. A well structured survey not only has the power to keep people engaged from start to finish, it also manages to make the whole process fun. Using a variety of different question types can have that effect.

No matter what your intention, the types of questions you ask have a huge impact on the success of your surveys. Let's dive in and assess how each type of question can add value to your survey and help you extract the data you need.

Types of survey questions

  1. Open-ended questions
  2. Closed-ended questions
  3. Multiple choice questions
  4. Dropdown questions
  5. Scale questions

Open-ended questions

These are generally short answer questions that allow the respondent to answer in detail with text. The benefit of using these is that you can gain some incredibly rich insights from individuals.

These are the opposite of closed-ended questions, that confine respondents to a limited set of answers for a question.

Open-ended questions allow you to understand things from the respondent's perspective and are, therefore, the perfect fit for the following situations.

When to use open-ended questions

Market research surveys

In order to find a target audience for your product or service, it's crucial to allow your respondents to provide their uncensored views. Open-ended questions can help encourage answers that are free of restraint and can in turn produce more honest responses from your audience.

This survey is a great example of how closed-ended and open-ended questions can work together to provide a more holistic understanding of a respondent.

Feedback surveys

Feedback surveys are a great medium for respondents to flag any issues with your product or service. For example, NPS surveys are generally closed-ended, however, it's essential that you include an open-ended follow up question at the end to understand exactly why the respondent gave you a particular score.

Here are some examples of feedback surveys that do this well.

User testing surveys

If you're looking to understand how a user might naturally navigate your product, website or app, the most organic way to receive unbiased feedback is by asking open-ended exploratory questions.

Examples of good open-ended questions:

  • What can we do to improve your experience?
  • What are the top priorities for your business at the moment?
  • What has kept you from subscribing to our service?
  • What was your high school experience like?
  • How do you go about booking a ticket for a flight?

Closed-ended questions

Closed-ended questions provide respondents with predefined options to answer with. This allows you to categorise responses, uncover patterns and identify any statistical trends.

There are a few different types of closed-ended questions to consider.

Boolean-style questions

Boolean-style closed-ended questions are defined by their ability to be answered with a straight "yes'' or "no" response. This allows you to extract valuable quantitative data from your respondents.

For example, if you ask your audience "Did you go to college?", you'll be able to determine exactly what percentage of your audience attended college by counting the "Yes" responses.

Multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions are also closed-ended in nature. The answers are still predetermined, however, they extend beyond the options of "Yes" or "No" and allow the respondent to choose from multiple options.

Multiple choice questions are a great way to cover a large variety of potential responses, and can be customised to include images. They're also easier for the respondent to answer and make for a more engaging survey (like this one) if used often.

Multiple choice questions leave little room for subjectivity and again, allow you to extract valuable statistical insights from your surveys. With the question pictured above, you'd easily be able to determine what percentage of respondents voted for the Classic Grilled Cheese compared to the rest. This can be particularly useful for opinion surveys and voting polls.

Dropdown Questions

Dropdown questions can technically be qualified as closed-ended too, however, they're slightly more complex when it comes to extracting statistical insights.

While dropdown questions present the respondent with predetermined answers to choose from, they can also allow them to choose more than one answer. This creates multiple possibilities for answer combinations and patterns, making it more difficult to categorise respondents based on their answers.

Dropdown questions are also useful for asking questions about a respondents' age group or geographical location - just make sure you don't allow respondents to choose more than one answer in this case!

Scale Questions

Rating scale questions allow respondents to assess a topic or issue based on a predetermined dimension. These questions display a range of answer options (usually from 1-5 or 1-10) that can help the respondent express their attitude towards something. These questions are especially handy for measuring changes in attitude over time.

Likert scale questions are another way to measure the perceptions and attitudes of respondents. However, instead of having numerical endpoints, these questions are instead based on attitudinal statements (often ranging from "extremely satisfied" to "not satisfied at all"). Likert scale questions are useful for gauging attitudes towards new product features, customer service experiences or the success of an event (like this NPS survey).

When to use closed-ended questions

Demographic surveys

Closed-ended questions are crucial for demographic surveys. If you're looking to categorise survey responses based on factors such as the respondent's age, gender, geographical location, occupation, income level or any other demographic factor, it's best to use a closed-ended question. By doing this, you can easily segment responses and identify important trends amongst respondents.

This can also be very handy for targeting certain demographics for marketing. Take this customer demographic survey as an example. By using a combination of open and closed-ended questions, the creator of the survey can now gain invaluable quantitative insights regarding the background of their target audience, allowing them to focus their marketing efforts towards a particular demographic.

Voting polls and opinion surveys

This should go without saying, but the easiest way to gauge the popularity of an option is by using closed-ended survey questions. This removes any subjectivity that might arise from asking open-ended questions, where answers might be too varied to categorise. Here's an example of an effective voting poll that uses multiple choice questions to its advantage.

Surveys with more than 1000 respondents

To make survey analysis easy and practical, it's best to use closed-ended questions for any surveys with a large number of respondents. This will make it easier to draw actionable data from the responses.

Repeat surveys and studies

If you're measuring the effect of something over time through multiple research efforts during that period, it's best to use closed-ended questions to track any changes in responses. This removes the element of subjectivity from responses and allow you to calculate exactly how someone's responses have changed over time.

Examples of good closed-ended questions:

  • When is your birthday?
  • Which state did you attend college in?
  • Do you like animals?
  • Do you like this new feature of our product?
  • Were you satisfied with your last vendor?

It's most likely that you'll need a combination of both closed and open-ended questions to create a successful survey. The key is to use the right type of question for each situation. For example, if you're trying to categorise your respondents based on their age, it's best to ask this as a closed-ended question rather than an open-ended one.

With a tool like Paperform, you can easily use templates to design engaging surveys. Paperform's question categories also make it really simple to determine the right type of question for any specific situation. Create an account for free today to get started with your survey!

Try Paperform Now!

14 Day Free Trial, No CC Required

How to Create a Memorable UX Portfolio: 6 Tips to Get Hired Anywhere

With the competition for UX roles getting hotter everyday, your portfolio is a key way to stand out to prospective clients and employers. Here are our...

Vrinda Singh

Bounce Rate: What It Is & How You Can Reduce Yours

Find out what a bounce rate is, what it means for your site and how you can reduce it.

Stephen Altrogge

8 UX Design Tools You Need to Use

A breakdown of the best tools in the market for UX Designers to create prototypes, measure usability and enhance their design workflow.

Vrinda Singh