Response formats

In this section:


For a consultation there should not be any mandatory questions in a questionnaire.

Closed response

Closed response questions include single response and multiple response questions.

For single response questions

If it is not obvious from the question (for example, yes or no questions), begin questions with the instruction "Select one answer only."

  • For multiple response questions, include an instruction to ensure respondents know to select more than one response (for example, "Select as many ___ as you need to show ___"). This is best placed at the beginning of the question text.
  • Try to limit response options to a single column (for example up to eight response options).
  • If it is necessary to have more than 8 response options or responses will not be visible without scrolling down the page, use columns. As a guideline:
  • If there are between 9 and 12 categories, use two even columns.
  • If there are between 13 and 20 categories, use three even columns.
  • If there are more than 20 categories, consider using a drop-down box with search functionality.
  • If using more than one column, use space to ensure that each column is clearly distinguishable from the other. Ensure that the response boxes are clearly linked to the correct response text within a column and will not be confused with other response options.

Other – please state

Some questions will have an "other" category. In most cases this category should be labelled "other – please state" with a text area for respondents to type their answer.

  • Respondents must be required to first select the response option "other – please state" via radio button or check box before writing their answer in the text area.
  • If possible, the text area should be made inactive until a respondent selects the "other - please state" option. The inactive area should be greyed out as a visual cue to respondents that they are unable to type in this text area. The text area should then become active (that is, a respondent is able to type in the text area). An active text area will be white.

Drop-down boxes

  • Only use drop-down boxes if asking a fact-based question. An example of a situation where drop-down boxes are appropriate is asking respondents for their country of birth. If respondents will not know their answer after reading the question, limit the number of response options and show all response options on a single screen.
  • Avoid using drop-down boxes unless there is a clear advantage to using one. For example, when selecting an answer from a drop-down box is easier than typing in an answer.
  • If using a big classification (for example, countries), ensure there is a search functionality within the drop-down box.
  • Do not use drop-down boxes for multiple response questions.
  • If using a drop-down box, set a default text mask such as "-click here-" or "-select one-". Do no leave the drop-down box blank or use default answers (for example "-New Zealand-") as respondents may not realise they need to select a response. Default answers send a blank response back to the server unless the respondent clicks on them.

Open response

Open response questions require text answers to be entered instead of selecting an option (or options) from a range of responses. Either text boxes or text areas can be used for open response questions depending on the type of answer required.

Text boxes

  • Text boxes are short input fields used for questions like date of birth.
  • Split text boxes into the format required to answer the question correctly. For example:
    • an address question with multiple text boxes presented vertically on multiple lines
    • date questions with multiple text boxes presented on one line with day, month and year boxes.
  • Size text boxes to assist respondents to identify what answer is required from them. For example, in date questions, the year text box should be bigger than the date and month text boxes.

Text areas

  • Text areas are for narrative entries, used for open-ended questions (such as comments or feedback).
  • Set a limit for the maximum number of characters respondents can type into the text area.
  • The visible size of the text area is best displayed as slightly bigger than the size needed for the maximum number of characters. Note that the visible size of the text area can differ depending on respondents' browsers.
  • If possible, size the text area to allow respondents to review their answers without having to scroll in the text area.

Numeric responses in open response questions

Dollar values

  • A "$" display mask should appear automatically before the beginning of the text box.
  • Ensure the size of the text box is appropriate for possible answers.
  • If possible, consider using digital groups. For example:
    • Break up response boxes into logical groupings for dollar values
    • Use a comma after every third digit e.g. 1,000,000. This should appear automatically.


  • Dates are recorded in the format dd/mm/yyyy or mm/yyyy.
  • Place labels below or in front of the text boxes to state which part of the date respondents are entering into each text box.

Matrix questions

  • Do not use matrix questions unless necessary (for example when they prevent repeating questions or allow easy comparison between items).
  • Do not use matrices for 'check all that apply' questions.
  • Minimise the number of items within the matrix grid.
  • If it is necessary for respondents to scroll through the matrix, freeze or lock column headings so they remain visible as respondents scroll through. This could mean repeating the headings further down the matrix if this function is not available. Note this is similar to the 'freeze panes' function in Excel.
  • Do not double-bank questions or items into several columns.

Matrix question display

  • Display the questions or items vertically with horizontal response categories.
  • Response boxes should be placed underneath the appropriate column headings.
  • Ensure the response text is clearly associated with the corresponding response boxes by using spacing, shading, or lines.
  • Consider horizontal shading to lead the eye across the matrix. Avoid vertical shading.
  • Use the appropriate instructions for the question. For example, "Select one response in each row" rather than "Select one response."
  • Consider automated greying of non-applicable answer spaces if possible.

Ordinal scales

Ordinal scales measure degrees or levels of something, for example, opinions or attitudes.

  • If necessary, response options for ordinal scales can be presented horizontally to help convey the idea of a scale.
  • The response boxes must be equidistant to avoid bias.
  • Place response text close to the relevant response option, distinguishing it from the other response options on the scale.
  • Ensure the scale fits on one line and does not break over two lines.

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