When someone creates a multiple-choice question, they should give thought to where and how to explain the question’s selections. People spend time wordsmithing the question, which is valuable time, but not the end of the matter. Even the invitation to survey participants may explain some background and key terms that shed light on selections. But at least four other options present themselves in the service of selections that can be answered without interpretative complexity.
First, a firm’s survey software should allow the designer to place an explanatory section before a question or series of related questions. That section can elaborate on what follows and guide readers in choosing among the selections. This technique has been overlooked in many of the questionnaires done for law firm research surveys.
Second, the question itself can be written carefully so that participants more easily understand the selections that follow. [This is not referring to directions such as “check all that apply” or “pick the top 3.” The point here pertains to interpretation and meaning of the multiple choices.] For example, the question might make clear the period for which answers should be given covers the previous five years. Or the question might define “international arbitration” in a certain way to distinguish it from “domestic arbitration.” The overarching definitions and parameters laid out in the question shape inform each of the selections that follow.
Third, as a supplement to the main question, some survey software enables the designer to add instructions. Using NoviSurvey, for instance, the instructions appear below the question in a box, and offer additional explanatory text. Instructions commonly urge participants not to put in dollar signs or text in a numeric field or to enter dates in a specific format, but they can also explain the selections. For example, the instructions might note that the first four selections pertain to one general topic and the next four selections pertain to a second topic. Or the instructions might differentiate between two of the selections that would otherwise perhaps be confused or misconstrued.
Finally, even if there is no explanatory section, guidelines from the question itself, or illumination in instructions, the selections themselves can embed explanatory text. Any time a selection has an “i.e.,” or an “e.g.,” the person picking from the selections should be able to understand them better. Sometimes a question will say “… (excluding a selection shown above)” to delineate two choices.
As a by-product, the more you expand on the selection choices, the more you can abbreviate them. The interplay between these four techniques to disambiguate selections, to present them more directly and clearly, allows careful designers of questions to craft selections more precisely and usefully.