Multiplechoice questions

These questions are deceptively easy to ask. In fact, they are one of the most difficult types of question to design, because the question designer has to know not only what to ask, but also all the possible answers. The range of answers provided must be comprehensive (no respondent should want to give an answer that is not offered) and mutually exclusive (no respondent should feel that the answer could be in more than one category).

In practice, these requirements are very difficult to meet. One has only to think of occasions when a multiple-choice question has been presented for which none of the offered responses exactly matched one's own point of view, to know that this type of question is commonly asked rather badly. The danger is that the researcher collects nice, neat data, where people are tidily classified into boxes, and may not appreciate that respondents have squeezed themselves into boxes that do not really fit them. Attempts to avoid this problem by offering a category saying, 'Other (please specify)' will introduce further complications. How many of those who have used one of the classifications offered would have used these additional classifications suggested by some respondents?

Nevertheless, where it is possible to design a valid multiple-choice question, such questions are easy to analyse and are less open to interviewer bias since respondents select their own response category. Processing responses is also easy since precoding can be used on the questionnaire. In Figure 8.2, questions 31, 33 and 36 are examples of precoded multiple-choice questions. It is usual to present the alternatives to respondents written on a 'show card', to avoid the problem of respondents forgetting some of the possible responses. When a number of responses is presented, the order in which they appear can affect their likelihood of being selected. Items that appear at the beginning and end of lists are more likely to be selected. Show cards with the responses listed in different orders are therefore produced so that these 'order effects' are randomized and cancel each other out. Figure 8.3 illustrates interviewer instructions on using show cards, and gives an example of a multiple-choice question with its accompanying show card.


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