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Response options and answer spaces

General information on response options and answer spaces

Group question numbers, question text, special instructions, and the response options that comprise each question together as a unit. Within the question pane, each portion needs to be seen as an appropriate subgroup.

Place more blank space between question panes than between the sub components of questions.

Size answer spaces for the type of answer expected.

Ensure sufficient space is provided for respondents to report their response.

See text style for response option text style requirements.

Placement of response options and answer spaces

Place answer spaces visibly closer to the response option they refer to than any other response option.

Ensure that there is a space of at least 3mm between:

  • Questions and response options
  • Vertical response options
  • Answer spaces and response options.

Align response options vertically. It is easier for respondents to work down a page rather than across. However, in some cases 'yes / no' responses can be an exception here. See the section on yes / no responses for more information.

Space response options at an equal distance from each other. However, if the question is a matrix structure and uses 'not applicable', 'don't know', or 'no opinion' response options, unequal spacing should be used. See section 11.3.3 for more information.

Do not have multiple columns of response options. Matrix questions are an exception to this, as they are by definition questions that have more than one column of response options. See section 11 for more information on the use of

Mark ovals

Use oval answer spaces ('mark ovals') for each response option in a closed-ended questions. Long, thin ovals are used to encourage respondents to answer with a horizontal line, rather than a tick. Lines are easier for imaging equipment to read and do not result in marks crossing more than one oval (as can often happen with the tail end of a tick). The use of ovals, rather than boxes, also makes a useful distinction between spaces to be marked and spaces to be written in.

Align mark ovals to the left of response options.

Place mark ovals visibly closer to the response option they refer to than to any other response option.

The format to use for mark ovals is 6mm wide x 3mm high ovals.

Example of mark oval answer spaces

Image, Example of mark oval answer spaces.

Text responses

Use text boxes for open-ended text responses.

Plain text box

Plain text boxes can be used for open-ended text responses that do not need to be recognised by imaging equipment.

Ensure the height of the plain text box is at least 8mm, to accommodate the majority of handwriting styles.

The width of the plain text box is dependent on how much information is being asked for. Larger spaces can elicit longer responses.

Example of a plain text box

Image, Example of a plain text box.

Constrained box for text

Constrained boxes direct respondents to write one letter in each box.

Use constrained boxes for open-ended text responses that will be recognised by imaging equipment.

If text constrained boxes are used, include an instruction at the beginning of the questionnaire, with an example of how to write in the boxes.

Constrained boxes should be 5mm wide x 6mm high, and spacing between boxes should be 0.7mm.

Example of constrained boxes

Image, Example of constrained boxes.  top

Numeric responses

Constrained boxes are recommended for numeric responses. However, if there is a legitimate reason to use plain text boxes rather than constrained boxes, the plain text boxes should be at least 8mm high, and contain units of measure, rounding elements, decimals, etc.

If constrained boxes are used, match the number of constrained boxes given with the number of digits expected from respondents. For example, if you are asking respondents to give the year in which something happened, give them four constrained boxes.

Each constrained box should be 5mm wide x 6mm high, and spacing between boxes should be 0.7mm.

Align numeric answer spaces to the right of the response option. Where possible, all numeric response boxes should be right-aligned in the same position up and down a page.

Include some indication of the unit of measurement (eg $, %, hrs) for each answer space. Place the % and 00 units of measure in separate constrained boxes, while $, hrs, and mins are outside the constrained boxes.

If rounding is required, a reminder in the numeric answer space is needed (eg 000 if rounding to thousands).

Use 14pt plain font for the units of measure.

Use 16pt white font for commas, and 14pt black font for decimals.

Include an instruction at the beginning of the questionnaire to advise respondents how to write in the answer space.

Examples of numeric response boxes

Image, Examples of numeric response boxes.  top

Single response or multiple responses

Include an instruction to inform respondents whether they should mark one response or mark more than one response, in the following circumstances:

  • If the questionnaire also contains a large number of questions which ask respondents to 'mark all that apply'.
  • If there has been a large number of 'mark all that apply' type questions in a row, and it would be unclear for the respondent whether to mark one response or more (eg the instruction would not be required for a yes / no question, but might be required for a question about educational qualification).

Place the instructions about whether to mark one, or more than one response, before the question, otherwise it is too easy for respondents to miss.

The suggested instruction wording is as follows:

  • Mark only one response.
  • Mark all that apply.
  • Mark the space or spaces that apply to you.
  • Mark as many spaces as you need to .....

When respondents are only required to mark one response, an instruction is not always needed (see above requirements for when to use). top

'Yes / no' responses

Ensure all yes / no responses follow the same order within the questionnaire. This reduces the risk on respondents assuming a 'yes' or 'no' option without reading the response options.

Generally, 'yes' should come before 'no' (positive before negative). There are some situations when the need for routing and sub-questions means that 'no' will need to come before 'yes'. Due to the need for all of these questions to follow the same order in the one questionnaire, the reverse order should only be used if it there are only a small number of yes / no response questions. Otherwise, all should be 'yes' before 'no'.

The recommended format for a yes / no response is vertically stacked, however horizontal alignment is allowed if there is insufficient space.

Example of yes / no responses

Image, Example of yes/no responses.

Image, Example of yes/no responses.  top

Fill characters and shaded stripes

Use fill characters or shaded stripes to lead the eye from response categories on the left to the correct answer spaces on the right. Use either fill characters or shaded stripes, but not both in the same questionnaire.

Shaded stripes are generally recommended, because fill characters add to the visual clutter of the page.

Shaded stripes are especially good for matrix questions.

Fill characters are recommended for two-column tables.

Format fill characters as 7pt full stops with a space between each.

Format shaded stripes in the following way:

The first row after the question and headings should always be a 10 percent shade.

Each row after this should alternate between 15 percent and 10 percent shading.

If one or more options require a 'note / include' box, the box should be the opposite shade to the row. For example, a 15 percent row should have a 10 percent box, while a 10 percent row should have a 15 percent box.

Example of shaded stripes and fill characters

Shaded stripes

Image, Example of shaded stripes.

Fill characters (shaded at 100 percent black)

Image, Example of fill characters (shaded at 100 percent black).  top

Fill characters (shaded at 70 percent black)

Image, Example of fill characters (shaded at 70 percent black).   

Pre-printed information

To save respondents having to repeat information, some items can be pre-printed on questionnaires and respondents can confirm if they are correct or incorrect. For instance, items that don't change often, like contact details and location details, may be pre-printed.

Ask respondents to check the pre-printed information, and where to record any corrections.

Ensure that all pre-printed information is accompanied by response boxes (in white) for respondents to correct any errors.

Format pre-printed information as a 5 percent shaded box, to differentiate from answer spaces in which something is required to be written.

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