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Marketing research - types of survey question

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

There are two main types of questions that are used in marketing research – closed-ended and open-ended questions: 

Closed-ended questions

A closed-ended question is one where the respondent is given a range of answers and has to make a choice of one or more.  These questions provide answers that are easier to tabulate, and are generally used to obtain quantitative data.  It is important that the question designer ensures that the full range of possible answers are provided – often this is overcome by giving the respondent the choice of ‘Other (please specify) ______________’

The main types of closed-ended question are

Dichotomous questions – these are questions with only two possible answers, e.g., Yes/No, True/False, Male/Female

Multiple-choice questions – these are questions with a definite range of answers (typically 4 or 5), from which the respondent makes a choice. E.g.

Which of the following age groups do you fall into?

  1. below 18
  2. 18 –30
  3. 31- 40
  4. 41 – 50
  5. 51 – 60
  6. 61 or above

Likert Scale – this style of question allows respondents to express their opinions to a limited degree.  They involve giving a statement to which the respondent has to state their degree of agreement/disagreement. 

E.g.  ‘The UK should join the Euro’

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Agree
  3. Don’t know
  4. Disagree
  5. Strongly disagree

Semantic Differential – this involves respondents making a choice between two extremes that most accurately reflects their feelings/opinions.  This produces qualitative data that can be collated relatively easily. 

Fast check-in speed               [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]          Slow check-in speed
Comfortable                            [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]          Cramped
Economical                             [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]  [ ]          Expensive

Rating scale – this involves the respondent giving a grade or rating to reflect their views/opinions from a limited range of answers that can be subsequently quantified. 

E.g.: ‘The quality of customer service I received during my stay at Hotel X was’

  1. Excellent
  2. Very good
  3. Good
  4. Acceptable
  5. Poor

Open-ended questions

An open-ended question is one where the respondent is allowed to answer in their own words.  The purpose of these questions is to obtain more detailed information, especially regarding respondent’s opinions and views on particular subjects.

Some of the most commonly used types of open-ended questions are:

Completely unstructured – this involves posing a question to the respondent and allowing them to answer in their own words, e.g., ‘What do you think of the level of public transport provision in your local area?’

Word association – this involves presenting respondents with certain words, e.g., company or brand names, and asking them for the first word that comes to mind. 

                        Air travel                    _________________
                        British Airways            _________________
                        RyanAir                      _________________

Story/Picture Completion – this involves presenting the respondent with an incomplete story, either in words or pictures, and asking them to complete it.

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