Five Tips For Using Interactive Questions in Online Surveys

In today’s digital world, consumers have many choices for online entertainment, information and news. Successful digital content must, therefore, stand out from all the clutter. For insights professionals looking to reach consumers through online surveys, interactive questions can be a helpful way to engage customers while providing their feedback.

Interactive question types provide a graphical and interactive way to capture respondent data in online surveys. Compared to standard input forms, like radio buttons and checkboxes, interactive questions leverage the technology advances of HTML5 and Javascript. This allows us to build customized and flexible survey forms and create an interactive, more user-friendly survey environment. Given all the internet technologies in use today, consumers expect a dynamic and engaging experience while online.

Figure 1. Slider and Rank Sort are examples of interactive questions. These provide a graphical and interactive way to capture respondent data in online surveys.

Interactive questions are also very important in today’s mobile world. As an example, traditional radio button designs may be too small for mobile device screens. Figure 2. illustrates how using an interactive ‘card sort’ employs big buttons to provide a more mobile friendly format over standard grid formatted question types. The card sort question enlarges the input areas font sizes for easy touch tapping and clear reading on the smaller screen. Styled buttons can animate, creating the illusion of being depressed.

This provides interactive user feedback and exciting visual effect.

Figure 2: Interactive questions can enhance participation rates for mobile users with enlarged touch input areas and dynamic visual effects.

Interactive questions can also reduce the cognitive burden associated with a response. Figure 3 shows a rank order task. A traditional question type would have respondents rank order their preferences by entering a rank number in a text box. Using an interactive drag and drop task, respondents instead physically rank order a set of cards, which is a much more intuitive and user-friendly way to fill out a survey. Interactive questions such as these have been shown to improve survey participation and engagement.

Figure 3: Using a rank sort question, respondent can indicate their preferences by sorting an array of cards. This provides a more intuitive and user-friendly way to fill out a survey compared to typing numbers in a text box.

While there are many benefits to interactive questions, they do need to be implemented with due diligence. Poorly executed designs can increase dropout rates, reduce the tendency to read questions, and even cause respondent confusion when not executed properly. As an example, we have seen designs where a respondent was navigating a spaceship and had to “shoot” an item to indicate a response. In this instance, the resulting data was sporadic as respondent focused more attention to the act of completing the task rather than thinking about the question asked by the researcher. In addition, poor styling or color choices can lead to data biases if attractive visual elements draw the respondent attention to specific answer choices over another.

Consider these five guidelines when employing interactive questions so you can get the most out of your research and avoid the pitfalls.

1. Offer a clear benefit

Standard question types, such as radio buttons or checkboxes are familiar forms that continue to be used today. If you’re thinking about using an interactive question, be sure it provides a clear benefit. How will it improve survey participation or usability? Will it enhance the insights you can collect from your customer?

Don’t just use an interactive question to ‘jazz’ up the survey with something that feels a bit more fun. Remember, interactive questions are new forms that a survey respondent may not be familiar with. Your interactive question may require a few more clicks or ask the respondent to manipulate an object in space. Make sure there is a benefit to throwing something different or a task that may take a little more time to complete.

2. Be clear on what to do and how to answer the question

Since the respondent may be encountering a new question format for the first time, any task that requires reading instructions or additional learning places extra demand on respondents. Ideally, it should be immediately apparent how to interact with the dynamic question. Don’t rely on respondents to read instructions. Pre-testing is a good way to ensure good survey design.

3. When using colors in your interactive questions, keep them neutral and uniform

Using colors as emotional signifiers (for example, red to indicate “stop” or something negative; green as something positive) can introduce an unexpected bias in your survey data as people interpret colors in different ways. We’ve found respondents will avoid answer choices with aggressive or loud background colors. Therefore keep colors uniform and balanced. Use colors to create light/dark contrast. A light background and dark foreground can help scale labels stand out. Or changing the state of a button to a darker color can provide a visual effect and useful feedback to indicate a selected item.

Figure 4. At top, the multi-colored scale results in a bias away from the red color, as it may have been too aggressive or ‘loud.’ At bottom, the colors are used to create light / dark contrast and signify a selected item. Uniform color contrast helps make labels easier to read and enhance the survey experience.

4. Check for cross-platform compatibility

Respondents can access surveys from a variety of devices and platforms. Does your interactive question function and render properly across all screen sizes? What may work well for a PC device may not be very usable on a mobile phone. Also, vice versa: what may work well on a mobile phone may not render well on a PC device.

Figure 5. Button forms work well on mobile phone devices. But without proper modification, button forms may be oversized for desktop and too much color saturation makes reading difficult.

5. Test and re-test your interactive questions

Finally, the only way to ensure a proper interactive question experience for your survey is to test it. See how it works with a mobile phone, tablet, and laptop/desktop devices. Are all questions and answer options easy to read? Is the respondent task clear or confusing? Difficult or easy? If something isn’t right for you, it won’t be suitable for your respondents either.

Interactive questions can improve survey usability and participation and give us new ways for collecting data and consumer insights. By offering additional functionality, such as graphical and interactive displays this allows the researcher to capture information in more engaging ways that are not possible in a traditional format. But care should also be taken when using interactive questions. Technology has given us such wide flexibility on how these can be designed so they can be easy to abuse or misuse.

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