Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.27, No.1, 2011. pp. 6585

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Designing Input Fields for Non-Narrative Open-Ended Responses in Web Surveys

Web surveys often collect information such as frequencies, currency amounts, dates, or other items requiring short structured answers in an open-ended format, typically using text boxes for input. We report on several experiments exploring design features of such input fields. We find little effect of the size of the input field on whether frequency or dollar amount answers are well-formed or not. By contrast, the use of templates to guide formatting significantly improves the well-formedness of responses to questions eliciting currency amounts. For date questions (whether month/year or month/day/year), we find that separate input fields improve the quality of responses over single input fields, while drop boxes further reduce the proportion of ill-formed answers. Drop boxes also reduce completion time when the list of responses is short (e.g., months), but marginally increases completion time when the list is long (e.g., birth dates). These results suggest that non-narrative open questions can be designed to help guide respondents to provide answers in the desired format.

Web surveys, open-ended responses, input field design, date questions, currency questions

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