Questions of this type offer respondents a number of specific alternatives from which they are to choose one or more, as the case may be. The following are the examples:
Do you buy this brand of motor oil exclusively, more than any other brand, or just occasionally?
Exclusively___ Just occasionally___
More than any other___ Don’t know____
Which of the following reasons do you think explain your patronage of this service station?
It’s closest to my home___
It’s clean and attractive___
It sells the gasoline brand I prefer___
Its prices are lower___
It gives complete service___
The personnel are courteous___
They are good mechanics___
They are personal friends___
Notice in each case the alternatives are actually repeated to the respondent. If the second question were asked without actually mentioning the alternative, it would be an open question rather than a multiple choice.
The two questions above illustrate some of the difficulties in using multiple-choice questions. In the first question, the three alternatives are specifically stated in the question proper. In the second question, there are too many alternatives to mention in the question proper; instead, they are listed at the end. But the list is so long that respondents would not be able to remember it when it was read to them.
Whenever a list of alternatives is as long as this in a personal interview, the choices should be put on a card and handed to the respondent. In telephone interviews lists this long should be avoided.
In the first illustration above, it is clear that the respondent is to select one alternatively only. In the second question, this is not so clear. If uniformity of response is to be obtained, it is necessary to make clear to the respondent how many choices may be selected.
In the second illustration above, the last alternative is “other”. It is common practice to give this choice, since some alternative may have been omitted. Respondents who had an answer not listed might be confused or feel forced to select another choice if they did not have this escape. It is imperative to list all alternatives that may be of any significance because very few respondents will mention an alternative that is not listed among the choices.
Approximately which of the following percentages of the total gasoline purchases for your car are made at this station?
25 to 50%___ 75 to 100%___
50 to 75%___ 100%___
Consumers who bought less than 25 percent of their gasoline at the designated station would be unable to select one of the alternatives. This question also illustrates another problem. Suppose respondents estimated they bought 50% of their Gasoline at the designated station. Would they select the first or second alternative? This is particularly troublesome in cases where the overlap is in the round numbers in which answers will probably be formulated. Thus, care should be taken to avoid overlap among alternatives.