A question type for every survey: Understand when to use them

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Posted Jun 20, 2024
Eliza Jacobs

The question types you choose can have a major impact on the data you collect, the analyses you can perform, and subsequently the insights you generate from your survey. You might be wondering, how do I know when to use each question type? That’s a completely fair question—and one we’re excited to answer in detail today. 

But first, let’s summarize why question types are important to survey research. Then, we’ll take a look at the most common question types offered on many survey platforms (including aytm) and we’ll discuss when each question type is most useful. Ready? Let’s dive in. 

Why do question types matter?

Before covering the different question types, let’s review why they are important to the research process.

Clarity and understanding: Different question types allow for clarity in conveying the information sought from respondents. They enable researchers to precisely define what they want to learn.

Variety in responses: Various question types prompt different kinds of responses, facilitating a more comprehensive understanding of participants' perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors.

Engagement and interest: A mix of question types keeps respondents engaged and interested throughout the survey. It prevents monotony and encourages thoughtful responses.

Data analysis: Different question types yield different data formats, enabling diverse methods of analysis. Closed-ended questions provide quantitative data for statistical analysis, while open-ended questions offer qualitative insights and nuances. We’ll talk more about this shortly.

Tailored approach: By choosing appropriate question types, researchers can tailor their approach to match the research objectives and the characteristics of the target audience, enhancing the survey's effectiveness.

Accuracy and reliability: Utilizing a range of question types helps ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data collected. It allows researchers to cross-validate responses and detect inconsistencies or biases.

Flexibility: Incorporating various question types offers flexibility in adapting surveys to different contexts—such as cultural differences or the complexity of the subject matter—maximizing the relevance and usefulness of the collected data.

Question type categories

Now that we’ve made the case for offering a variety of question types in your survey, let’s take a look at the different categories of question types. Specifically, there are two broad categories for question types: closed-ended and open-ended.

Generally speaking, closed-ended questions are quantitative questions where respondents select a response option from a list or scale provided to them in the survey question. On the other hand, open-ended questions are qualitative in nature—meaning they ask respondents to provide free-form text or even video or image responses.

Let’s take a closer look at closed-ended versus open-ended questions. The following table provides a comparison of the different question types.

However, there are numerous question types that make up these two broad categories. Specifically, for close-ended question types,  the most common question types are:

  • Single choice
  • Multiple choice
  • Scales
  • Matrix

And for open-ended, you often see: 

  • Text entry - can be single line or multiple lines
  • Forms
  • Image/video response

Common/regular question types and when to use them

We can break question types down even further into those that we see most frequently on survey platforms. Note that the naming conventions for each of these may vary by survey platform.

Closed-ended questions

Single choice/radio button

Single choice/radio button questions are used when you have lists of items but you want respondents to select only one answer. A common use case is for certain demographic questions, such as gender. Or perhaps you want respondents to select the primary way they commute to work—personal vehicle, public transportation, carpool, bicycling, walking, etc.

Multiple choice/checkbox 

Multiple choice/checkbox questions can also be used for lists, but in this case, you want respondents to select more than one answer. It is also possible to limit how many answers respondents select through question settings. Multiple choice questions are also used for certain demographic questions, such as race/ethnicity but are also useful when trying to understand, for example, the various streaming services that respondents subscribe to.

Both single choice and multiple choice are effective when you already have an idea of what options you want respondents to choose from.


Another closed-ended question type we’ll talk about here is reorder/ranking. This question type is used to determine respondent preference among a list of possible options. Consider this to be a “level up” from single or multiple choice. For example, you can use this question type to ask respondents to rank/reorder a list, from most preferred to least preferred, of different types of food. A word of caution about reorder/ranking questions—they are not always the optimal question type for respondents. 

First, they do not work well with long lists. Ranking/reordering can be a cognitively difficult task and respondents may start to rank choices randomly. This will lead to unreliable data. In addition, long lists are time-consuming and may frustrate respondents. Next, there is no way to measure the difference between items. Perhaps a respondent feels equally about the items he/she ranked first and second and essentially flipped a coin to determine the order. All of this is to say that you do not need to completely avoid using reorder/ranking questions, but perhaps keep the limitations in mind should you use this question type.


Scale questions are closed-ended question types and are most frequently asked when measuring attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, or frequency. They are often used to measure things like importance and satisfaction. For example, an airline may send passengers a survey after you recently took a trip with them. One of their questions could be a scale question measuring satisfaction with your inflight service. The scale endpoints might be 1- very dissatisfied to 5- very satisfied. Important note—the length of a scale (i.e, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 points, etc.) varies depending on various factors including researcher preference, if you want to include a neutral response option, etc.

While radio buttons/single choice questions can also be used as scales, let’s talk about two specific types of scale questions—matrix and star/smiley ratings.

Matrix: Matrix questions are essentially several scale questions combined into one question. They are a great way to ask multiple questions simultaneously because they are presented as a single question. This will help make your survey more efficient for respondents. Matrix questions apply a uniform scale to multiple entities or sub-questions. Continuing with our airplane travel example, perhaps you want to understand passenger satisfaction with not only the inflight experience but also—the check-in process, security, and the gate experience. These can all be assessed through a matrix question, provided you are using the same response scale. aytm leverages - a Progressive Matrix—this focuses respondents’ attention on one column or one row at a time, a process we call progressive flow. After selections are made for this manageable cluster of answer options, respondents can move on to the next column or row and choose among the same answer choices for the next item on the list.

Star/Smiley Rating: Star/Smiley rating questions are a fun and simple way to gather ratings for several entities in the same question, such as asking respondents to rate different aspects of a product or service. Smiley ratings allow respondents to convey their basic level of happiness on each item whereas stars convey approval/quality ratings. Both offer customizable scales.

Open-ended questions

Open-ends/text entry

One of the challenges with closed-ended question types is that the lists and/or response options are often not comprehensive and are based on researchers’ assumptions. This is where free-form text response questions are useful because they allow respondents to answer in their own words.

Responses can vary in length from a single line of text to a few hundred words. For example, if you are seeking in-depth feedback about experience staying at a hotel—you may want to include a few open-ended questions to better understand what respondents enjoyed about their stay and where the hotel can improve the visitor experience.


Form questions are helpful when you want to collect various kinds of information from respondents in a single question, such as contact information or exact ages. Form questions use  validation to ensure that responses are in the format you need them.

One thing to note from the analysis side—open-ends are very rich text responses that provide deeper feedback than closed-ended questions, but they do require more time for analysis, so plan accordingly.

Image/video response 

Image and video response questions require respondents to capture a picture or video and upload those into the survey platform. Both question types are incredibly versatile and allow you to capture qualitative feedback. A simple example is if you want to know more about respondents’ pets, you can ask them to upload a picture or video about their pets instead of using a more standard type of question.

Specialty question types and when to use them

These question types all prompt respondents in unique ways and enhance your data collection and analysis.

Rapid Association

Rapid Association questions are used to collect impressions of visual stimuli in a timed environment. Respondents are shown stimuli and asked whether various term associations “fit” or “do not fit.” 

For example, if you are interested in understanding how respondents feel about your brand identity, consider using rapid association to see what attributes are most strongly associated with your brand.

By collecting choice data with a predetermined time pressure, you can capture the fast, automatic, and intuitive System 1 thinking, which may better mimic the quick, real-life, minimal-effort decisions respondents make in real shopping situations.


A Heatmap helps gather impressions on images—including images with or entirely made up of text. Essentially heatmap provides a real-time, gut reaction from respondents. This is an ideal question type for product or ad testing, to understand what aspects of the stimulus resonate with respondents. On aytm’s platform, you are presented with several different modes in which to view and analyze the data, allowing you to pick the mode that is most appropriate for your research. Note that a highlighter question type is very similar to heatmap in that it lets respondents highlight areas of text or an image that they like or don’t know.

Impression Dial

Impression dial is an interactive tool that is used to capture sentiments, feelings, or perceptions on a second-by-second basis as respondents view video content. Use cases include testing a movie trailer or product advertisement. aytm also offers a library of prewritten scales to choose from to populate your endpoints.


The side-by-side comparison test is perfect when you have several logos/icons/banners/short names/etc. to compare. This question presents sets of images or text to respondents and prompts them to choose their preference among the two items. Respondents will continue to evaluate pairs until the algorithm detects that their preference is conclusive.

Polarity Scale

Polarity scale, or semantic differential questions, are used to obtain responses on a sliding scale between two extremes. When you add a polarity scale to a survey, you can use a single question to ask about one or more aspects, qualities, or perceptions about that item at the same time. Using your own words or those from aytm’s pre-populated scale library, polarity scale can be used in a variety of ways, including conducting product evaluation. 

Any further questions?

Understanding the nuances of different question types is essential for crafting effective surveys. By thoughtfully combining various question types, you can create a more engaging survey experience for respondents, improve the quality of your data, and ultimately gain more actionable insights. This strategic approach ensures that your surveys are not only comprehensive and versatile but also aligned with your research goals and the characteristics of your target audience. Remember, the effectiveness of your survey depends on your ability to select and implement the appropriate question types to address your specific research questions.

Learn more in this interactive learning course

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