Monday, December 12, 2011

Problem with Surveys Asking for "Agree" or "Disagree" Using Radio Buttons

I filled out a short survey today (which I appreciated for being short) that asked me to assess my satisfaction for an event I recently attended. What's notable about the experience was that just before I was about to click the Submit button I decided to check my 3 responses one more time. I was very glad I checked, because I realized that all of my responses were the exact opposite of what I intended, and so I corrected each response before making my final submission.

The problem: I had selected "disagree" for every item with which I agreed and vice versa for ones with which I disagreed.

How often do people encounter surveys that list a bunch of statements and then give radio buttons for indicating one of the following (or similar) sentiments:
  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

I think that based on each person's individual experiences, the person may assume that "Strongly Agree" either always falls on the left or always falls on the right side of the response matrix without pausing to actually read the survey. If the respondent is in a hurry to complete a survey, are the differences between the following two screenshots really all that apparent?

To reduce the chance of survey results being invalidated by responses that are completely wrong because the person intended the response on the other end of the spectrum, picklists may be used in place of radio buttons. I'll outline a few reasons why I think picklists are the better choice.

1. Picklists force people to read.

When a user is confronted with a picklist that starts with an option like "--Select a Response--", he or she must read all of the picklist options in order to pick the right value.

2. Keyboard shortcuts make picklists more usable.

Imagine a standardized picklist that has the following options:
  • Agree
  • Agree, Strongly
  • Disagree
  • Disagree, Strongly
  • Neutral

When a user tabs to the input and when the input has focus, the user can:
  • Press A once for "Agree";
  • Press A twice for "Agree, Strongly";
  • Press D once for "Disagree";
  • Press D twice for "Disagree, Strongly"; or
  • Press N for "Neutral".

In my mind, this makes surveys easier to fill out in less time, which should increase the response rate by telling users that a survey would only take 1 minute instead of 2.