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Question Types

Author: Katherine Williams

Determine if a question is binomial, open, or closed.

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Binomial Question Type

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This tutorial talks about binomial questions. Now binomial question type is a question that produces a special kind of categorical data with just two possible values. One really good example of this is yes/no. questions. So whatever question you ask can only produce two possible answers-- yes or no.

The disadvantage to this type of question is that sometimes a person's response doesn't exactly fit one of the two possibilities. So a maybe, that wouldn't fit into this. And so they wouldn't be a very good question for whatever was being asked. The person didn't want to just say yes or just say no.

There are a lot of other examples that we'll see of when binomial question type isn't exactly appropriate because people can't give accurate and a very truthful response because they're limited to those two options. Sometimes, it does work great, but not all the time.

One thing to be careful about is that here when we're talking about binomial questions, we are not talking about binomial distribution. That's something different. It's not what we're talking about here. Let's look at some examples to decide whether they are or aren't binomial questions.

Here, do you smoke? This one, you could answer with yes or no. So at first glance, it would look like this is a binomial question. However, what about people who used to smoke but no longer do. Should they answer yes or no? Or people who smoke only once in a year.

Technically, they don't smoke all that much, but they do still smoke. So they would have a difficult time in answering. So while you could frame this as a binomial question and give them only those two options of yes or no, it's perhaps not most appropriate in order to capture the range of responses that participants might have.

The second one says, what do you know about the planets? This question is very obviously not binomial question type. The responses will be varied. There's no way to limit this to just two options. There's no way to answer yes or no. And here, this wouldn't work.

The next question says, do you prefer dogs or cats? Here there's only two possible responses. You could say dogs, or you could say cats. So this is a binomial question type. There's only two possible answers, and the participants will be able to respond appropriately.

The last one, how old are you? Here, again, the response is going to be a number, so it's quantitative data. So it's not appropriate to use a binomial question here. If you were just categorizing old versus young, you'd want to have a different kind of question for that, and that could be a binomial question type. But as it stands with how old are you, there's way more than two responses, so that's not a binomial question. This has been your introduction to binomial questions.

Open vs. Closed Question

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This tutorial covers open and closed questions. Now with an open question, there is no definitive length of response in mind. It could be a very short answer. It can be a long answer. It could be a paragraph, a page. You don't know.

The advantage to offering an open question is that you're not limiting your responses in any way. Participants can answer with whatever they feel like. Now a disadvantage is because participants are so free to choose how to respond, you need to apply a lot of subjectivity in order to evaluate their answers and draw conclusions from them.

On the other hand, we have closed questions. With closed questions, you have definite short responses in mind. It could even be simple as yes or no or other questions that only have two answers. Now an advantage to this is it's very easy to evaluate your data. You can classify them, and you can draw conclusions from those classifications pretty easily. The disadvantage is that you might be boxing your participants in, and they might not have a good answer. We'll go through a few examples.

The first example, do you smoke? Is that an open-ended question or closed question? The answer is, do you smoke, is going to be filled in pretty with a short answer-- yes, no, I used to. Someone could go on for a long time and start explaining more things. But the answer to just the question do you smoke is going to be short, and there's a definitive list of options. You could make this multiple choice even. So this question here is a closed question.

The second question says, what do you know about the hazards of smoking? This question here is very open. We don't know what they know. We don't know how long they're going to explain it for. We don't know how they're going to explain it. They could even turn in a picture diagram telling us what they know about the hazards of smoking. So this would be an open question. We can't really turn it into a multiple choice. There's no short answers that we're expecting to get, so it's open.

The third question says, when did you stop smoking? This here is a closed question. There's an answer that's a definitive length. It's going to be some amount of time-- a year ago, a month ago, 1997, 2001. Now the issue is that this is an example of a closed question that might not have a good answer.

If the participant never smoked or if the participant is still smoking, how would they answer this question? They really can't. So this is a closed question. And it's an example of why sometimes a closed question is too limiting because our participants might not always be able to answer.

The fourth question says, why did you stop smoking? This one is open ended. Typically, a why question is going to require a lengthier response and would probably be open. There are sometimes when it might be closed if there's only one or two or three answers that you could give. But why did you stop smoking, that's going to have a wide range of responses. They could vary in length. So that's going to be open.

Now just like the question that came before it, some people aren't going to have a good answer for this. If you never started smoking or you never stopped smoking, you're not going to be able to answer this question. So even though it's an open-ended question, some participants still aren't going to be able to respond. This has been your tutorial on open and closed questions.

Terms to Know
Binomial Question Type

A question that will yield categorical data with just two possible values.

Closed Question

A question type with only so many different answer choices.

Open Question

A question type with no answer choices; the respondent can choose what he or she wants to say to answer the question.