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For the purposes of questionnaire design, a table is defined as any question with at least two columns of responses that are of a different format (eg mark response and numeric response). Tables can be even more difficult and complex than matrix questions as they require respondents to consider each cell separately to provide an answer. Not only does this create more burden, it also adds to the risk of misinterpretations and item non-response.

It is recommended that you do not use tables unless there is absolutely no alternative. Even if splitting a table into several questions means that each item becomes repetitive, this is preferable to using a table due to the risks to data quality. If there is no alternative to using a table, the following requirements and guidelines need to be used to try and reduce the complexity, and testing is needed to ensure respondents correctly interpret what is being asked of them.

Table format

Table headings

  • Keep headings short and simple.
  • If the information cannot be conveyed easily in a few words, use another format.
  • Use lower case text for row and column headings.

Table shading

  • Use white space to indicate where an answer should be recorded.
  • Do not use black vertical and horizontal division lines as this clutters the table text. Instead, shade the division lines at the same degree as the question pane.
  • Row and column headings should have 10 percent shading.
  • Constrained boxes and mark ovals should also be placed on 10 percent backgrounds.
  • Pre-printed cells should have a 5 percent background.
  • All items have 15 percent borders to easily distinguish each cell.

Unlike matrix questions, where the rows should be considered as single elements, tables often require respondents to consider the columns as single elements (it's usually easier to answer all numeric responses first, before answering all mark responses). Use different shading for columns, but not for rows.

If sufficient contrast between elements on the questionnaire has not been achieved using the recommended shading, the shades can be deepened, provided this is consistent throughout the questionnaire.

Example of table format

Image, Example of table format.  top

Additional information for using tables

If additional information is required for column headings, make the main heading bold and the additional notes in plain font. However, this should be restricted to important, but easily conveyed, additional information, for example 'NZ dollars', 'mark all that apply'.

Do not include instruction boxes in column headings.

If additional information is required for rows, use instruction boxes in an alternate shade (15 percent shade is recommended).

Footnotes in tables

Do not use footnotes as respondents are likely to ignore these. Important information should be recorded where it is required.

Answer codes in tables

Do not ask respondents to answer using codes (an answer code would be 'Write Y for 'yes' and N for 'no'). Respondents are unlikely to read the instructions for answer codes unless they are in an obvious location. If they do not read the instructions, they may respond in ways that will be difficult to interpret. Even if they do read the instructions, they can still misinterpret them (especially for complex codes).

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