Open-ended questions in web surveys

Jolene D. Smyth, Don A. Dillman, Leah Melani Christian, Mallory Mcbride

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Previous research has revealed techniques to improve response quality in open-ended questions in both paper and interviewer-administered survey modes. The purpose of this paper is to test the effectiveness of similar techniques in web surveys. Using data from a series of three random sample web surveys of Washington State University undergraduates, we examine the effects of visual and verbal answer-box manipulations (i.e., altering the size of the answer box and including an explanation that answers could exceed the size of the box) and the inclusion of clarifying and motivating introductions in the question stem. We gauge response quality by the amount and type of information contained in responses as well as response time and item nonresponse. The results indicate that increasing the size of the answer box has little effect on early responders to the survey but substantially improved response quality among late responders. Including any sort of explanation or introduction that made response quality and length salient also improved response quality for both early and late responders. In addition to discussing these techniques, we also address the potential of the web survey mode to revitalize the use of open-ended questions in self-administered surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-337
Number of pages13
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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