Poll on Surveys: Open Text Fields or Buttons?

I hear two schools of thoughts regarding the use of automated surveys: some prefer open text fields, others prefer buttons.

Assume you were asked to take a customer survey for a product you use or are considering using.  The survey is short (fewer than 10 questions) and completely voluntary.

[poll id="1"]

(For those that prefer text fields, my apologies.) Please let me know why you prefer one over the other in comments.

14 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Poll on Surveys: Open Text Fields or Buttons?”

  1. CustDevGuy February 10, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Perhaps commenters who have employed both types could weigh in on which has worked better for them?

  2. Matt Kaplan February 10, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    I think you need to first decide the type of question you are trying to ask. Open-ended questions require input fields, whereas closed questions (like multiple choice) force the user to answer from a pre-defined list.

    I often use a combination of both to get quantitative results from the closed questions and qualitative input from the open-ended questions.

    • brantcooper February 10, 2010 at 6:53 pm

      Right, but that’s from the surveyor’s perspective. I am curious whether the respondent has a preference.

  3. Sam February 10, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Buttons are fine .. but always have an open text field at the end to hear what’s really on their mind.

  4. Wimmo van Geldrop February 11, 2010 at 2:11 am

    If you would have thousands of replies and you have a straight yes/no answer, it’s better to work with buttons for your statistics. If you need response like ‘comment’ you obviously need a text field.

  5. Wimmo van Geldrop February 11, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Btw, i HATE moderations when leaving comments. I want my reply to show up on the website immediately. (Who in the world would leave abusive comment on a website and topic like this??)

    • brantcooper February 11, 2010 at 8:53 am

      Sorry, I find it frustrating, too. But it’s the spam, not abusive comments per se. Akismet is good, but doesn’t catch everything.

  6. Michael Scepaniak February 11, 2010 at 5:28 am

    I don’t see any reason not to do both:

    (button) option 1
    (button) option 2
    (button) option 3
    (button) other (text field)


    • brantcooper February 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

      Sure, no reason not to. But one can ask the same question using buttons or text fields. They will produce different results. Some people believe it’s faster and more accurate to use open text fields, while others argue that buttons are faster. What I’m asking here is what the survey respondent prefers.

  7. Lydia Sugarman February 11, 2010 at 10:16 am

    From the business owner perspective, I am usually willing to respond to surveys. It’s good karma to help other businesses, kind of the ‘golden rule’ rule.

    As a respondent, I like getting the summarized results when offered to help me in my business. That is definitely an incentive to participate. I overwhelmingly prefer. If I’m confronted w/ text windows at the beginning of a survey, I always bail or if it’s one or two at the end, I’ll either give very perfunctory responses or leave them blank.

    I’m willing to give a few minutes, but don’t take advantage of me!

  8. Lydia Sugarman February 11, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Ack! I meant to say/write that I overwhelmingly prefer buttons or checkboxes, although that wasn’t offered here as a choice. Just don’t make me have to really think and write something!

  9. Cindy Alvarez February 16, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Generally, I think most respondents would prefer buttons/checkboxes – it’s faster, you don’t have to think or spellcheck.

    Notable exception is when there is some specific thing that I really want to communicate that ISN’T in the button options. Adding a freeform textarea at the end is better than nothing, but not everyone remembers what they wanted to say without a ‘trigger’ in the form of a question.

    Iterating your survey (show to a small % of users first to identify if there are any issues that might require ‘textarea questions’) is a big help.

    In general that’s a good idea regardless – looking at a subset of responses helps you validate that you’re learning what you set out to learn or if you need to adjust the questions.

  10. ibagrak February 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Definitely buttons since they make for faster surveys. You can have radio buttons and then one which is an open text field for survey takers who are really eager to share their unique perspective. The downside is that the responses would be harder to analyze, but you would capture some relevant info that you would otherwise miss.

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