Response Styles of Surveys: Types, Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:10 Collecting Info
  • 1:33 Dichotomous and…
  • 4:05 Rank Order Scaling
  • 5:35 Semantic Differential…
  • 7:30 Constant Sum and Open…
  • 8:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the different ways a researcher can write questions to use in a survey. Each survey type will have strengths and weaknesses to help researchers understand why they should or shouldn't pick that type.

Collecting Info

Do you like candy? I like candy. Most of the lessons that I write have to do with candy. But, what is the best kind of candy? There are so many different types and so many different opinions on them! How are we going to figure out the best and most beloved type of candy?

The best way of figuring this out is to have a representative of each candy in a gladiatorial pit where they fight to the death. The only remaining champion will declare their patron candy as the supreme candy of the land. Of course, then it will turn out to be some kind of terrible candy, which I'm not allowed to say for legal reasons.

This is a terrible idea. What we need is a way to get opinions from many people to help us understand how the people we're interested in think. This would mean we need to conduct a survey - defined as brief interviews or discussions with individuals about a specific topic. There are ways we can write our questions so that we can collect different types of information. They are:

  • Dichotomous
  • Multiple choice
  • Rank order scaling
  • Semantic differential scale
  • Stapel scale
  • Open ended questions

Instead of trying to mash in their definitions, I thought I would give you a quick rundown of them with the definition and pros and cons of each. Let's begin.


Dichotomous scales are questions with only two possible responses, typically yes or no. You only get two choices with dichotomous. You go in or out, up or down, yes or no. In our candy example, your survey question may be, 'Do you enjoy eating candy? Yes/No.'

Positives of dichotomous scales are:

  • They're easy to score - There are only one of two options.
  • They're a good screener - If you're going to do a survey on the best candy, you should throw out all the people who don't like candy. (Or, maybe give them a different questionnaire.)

Some of the negatives include:

  • Little usable data - Beyond the yes or no, it does not tell you how much or how little. It is very black or white.
  • Questions may blunt specifics - For instance, some days you may not want to eat candy, so you will respond with a no. Or, what if the person is diabetic? This type of question does not take their specifics into account.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice scales are three or more mutually exclusive choices. Almost everyone has taken a test where you can answer A, B, C or D. Those are the basics. Mutually exclusive means that two or more options don't overlap. Something that is not mutually exclusive would be like chocolate bars and chocolate bar pieces.

Some of the positives of multiple choice include:

  • Options - A researcher can find out which candy is liked the most when given several options. Maybe chocolate bars beat out chocolate pieces, which trounced peanut butter squares.
  • They're simple to understand - Nearly everyone can handle this type of question because modern schools train you in how to answer multiple-choice questions.

The negative list looks like this:

  • Limited statistical application - While it is a bit beyond this lesson, you can't really do much with this type of answer other than which one is selected the most.
  • Limited gradation - Even if you have the option of selecting multiple options, all you have are the ones people think are the best. You have to write a different question to see which candy bar people like the worst. Each question can only have one idea and not grades of the candy bar or levels of preference. What about the candy bars that people are happy with but don't think are the best?

Rank Order Scaling

Rank order scaling is arranging options based on their relative stature, which is like saying, 'I like this one best, this one second best and this one third best.' You are giving each option a rank compared to the others.

Some of the strengths are:

  • Ability to make questions more specific by what is asked - You can have the participant rank candy based on taste, price, aftertaste, availability and more. Each ranking may come back different.
  • This type allows for comparative statistics - This is where the fancy math lets you know that candy bar A is liked more often than candy bar B.

The negatives include:

  • The rankings are equal - If I really like candy bar A and hate all of the others, I still have to rank them one, two, three and four. This type of response style doesn't let you space them out, like candy bar A is one while the others are eight, nine and ten 'cause they stink. All of the candy bar options must be one, two, three or four.
  • Lists can get large or very specific - If our question is, 'What is the best candy?' then we will need to get every possible candy option in the ranks. This list would go on forever. So, we would likely need to make a smaller list, such as candy bars sold in the U.S. This would make the rankings very specific to candy bars only sold in the U.S.

Semantic Differential Scale

Semantic differential scale is defined as a rating based on a bipolar continuum using two opposing adjectives. We see these every day when people ask us to rate stuff. For example, with one being terrible and seven being great, how was your candy bar experience?

Some of the good things about this type of scale include:

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