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Questionnaires often contain items that do not apply to all respondents. For example, if you need to ask where a respondent parks their car, you would need to first ask if they own a car. When respondents are asked questions that do not apply to them, it can often cause confusion or frustration.

Two alternatives exist with this type of question. The question can include a 'not applicable' option such as 'I do not have a car'. However, this is not desirable, as it means the respondent still needs to read the question. The better alternative is to use a screening question with routing instructions. Routing is used so that the respondents can avoid the questions that they do not need to answer. Sometimes routing can be used to navigate the respondent past a large number of questions, whereas other times, it is used to move the respondents on to the next question.

Questions that use routing can lead to a larger number of errors, so do everything you can to make sure routing is easy to follow. Testing is required to ensure that respondents follow routing correctly.

Routing format

Use arrows to link the instruction to the response option it belongs to. Arrows are more easily distinguished from normal text on its own.

Routing arrows should be 1pt width, and shaded 100 percent of the questionnaire colour.

Format the question number in the routing instruction in the same way as question numbers throughout the entire questionnaire. This makes the routing number stand out, and makes it obvious that respondents are to go to this question number.

The routing number box should be 5mm x 5mm, and the routing number should be 11pt bold white font. Use a smaller sized box for the routing number than for actual question number boxes, so the respondent can identify which is which and they will not be confused.

Centre the routing number both vertically and horizontally in the box.

Align routing instructions to the response option with a ragged right, so that the routing instructions in different response options are not necessarily in line. This makes the routing instructions stand out from each other.

See section 3.1 for the text style for routing instructions.

Example of routing format

Image, Example of routing format.  

Routing placement

Place the routing instruction immediately after the response options.

Questions with routing instructions should not be placed on the bottom of a page, because the respondent may be less likely to see it.

Routing that requires respondents to turn over a page (rather than just moving down the same page or on a facing page) is especially difficult for respondents to follow correctly. However, if this type of routing is essential then also reference the page number where the question is found. top

Yes / No routing

Give both the yes and no options routing instructions to reduce the risk of a respondent thinking the routing for one option applies to both.

See 8.7 for yes / no response option formatting.

Example of yes / no routing

Image, Example of yes/no routing.  top

Multiple response options requiring routing

If more than one response requires the same routing, a bracketed arrow can be used. For example, use bracketed arrows only for questions with 'don't know' or 'none of the above' response options.

Due to the potential for misinterpretation or for instructions to be missed, use bracketed arrows only when the following criteria apply:

  • There are only two instructions (eg 'go to X' and 'go to the next question'). Any more than two possibilities can be too complex for respondents.
  • One response option requires routing that is different from the other response options. Try to avoid questions where three responses lead to one question and two responses lead to another.

For most response options, respondents only need to go to the next question.

Start each end of the arrow close to the relevant response option text, to ensure that there is no confusion as to which options the routing applies to.

Examples of bracketed arrows

Image, Examples of bracketed arrows.  top

Routing to a sub-question

In some situations there will only be one additional piece of information required following the routing question. Although it is preferable to have a separate routing question, if space is limited it is sometimes possible to use an indented sub-question in the same box.

Indent the sub-question to be in line with the routing instructions. This way, only questions that are to be answered by all respondents are aligned down the left of the page.

If indenting is not possible, the sub-question should be formatted in a way that makes it obvious which response option it belongs with, and that not all respondents should answer the question (eg using arrows to link the question to the response).

Use this technique sparingly and thoroughly test it to ensure that it does not create any additional confusion.

Example of routing to a sub-question

Image, Example of routing to a sub-question.  top

Routing to the end of the questionnaire

If sequencing means that certain respondents finish the questionnaire at an earlier point than others, route them straight to the physical end of the questionnaire.

Do not put the 'end' of the questionnaire anywhere other than the last page. Having an early 'end' within the questionnaire encourages respondents to give the responses that allow them to answer fewer questions.

Combinations of routing formats

Sometimes a combination of routing formats is required, for example if a sub-question provides more than one option for respondents to follow, depending on their response.

The response that leads to a series of questions should use the required routing instruction format.

Use the indented sub-question format and another routing instruction for the response that requires the answer to one question before skipping to the next section.

Combinations are usually necessary if there is a single question related to one response, and a series of questions related to the other response.

This sort of routing is especially complex for respondents to follow, so sufficient testing is needed to ensure the routing is being followed correctly.

Example of combining routing formats

Image, Example of combining routing formats.

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