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When Online Survey Respondents Only ‘Select Some That Apply’

Forced-choice questions yield more accurate data than select-all-that-apply lists: “Anyone who has taken a survey has likely been given the option to “check all that apply” when answering a question. The instruction is widely used in data collection because of its ease and efficiency. But when designing an online survey questionnaire, there is more than one way to ask a respondent to select which options in a series apply to them.

A pollster can show respondents a list and ask them to select all that apply, or the pollster can ask separately about each option. The two methods do not always yield identical results. Studies have repeatedly indicated that more survey respondents endorse (answer “yes” to) each option under the latter approach, known as “forced-choice,” sometimes resulting in very different estimates. However, previous studies have not been clear on which question format produces the more accurate estimates.

Using its national online American Trends Panel (ATP), Pew Research Center conducted a large, randomized experiment comparing these two question formats. The experiment was part of a survey conducted July 30-Aug. 12, 2018, among 4,581 U.S. adults. Respondents were asked whether they or someone in their immediate family had experienced various undesirable events (e.g., treated for addiction to drugs or alcohol, or lost a home to foreclosure). The study randomly assigned half the respondents to answer using a select-all-that-apply list while the other half answered a series of forced-choice “yes/no” questions…” [h/t Lea Wade]

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