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4 Tips for Writing Matrix Questions

4 Tips for Writing Matrix Questions

matrix_questionA matrix question—or really, multiple questions presented on a grid—is one of the most popular question types in online and traditional pen-and-paper surveys.

For survey creators, these bundled questions are easy to write and program. For respondents, they’re generally easy to interpret (and answer) since the scales and answer options stay the same across all items.

However, the surface simplicity of this question type masks significant downsides. In order to collect high-quality data, you want to be aware of some of this question type’s primary pitfalls, especially since taking surveys on mobile devices continues to be on the rise.

Since matrix questions are so easy to create, question writers often overuse this question type. They offer too many response options and too many items or rows. This makes it difficult for people to read and can encourage poor survey taking behavior, like straight-lining (where respondents select the same response for each item without careful consideration of each row) or randomly selecting responses because they just want to escape the matrix!

Tips for making sure you don’t get caught in the matrix

Ready to take a look at some example matrix questions? We thought so! Imagine you run a clothing store in a mall. And you’ve written a customer satisfaction survey, which you send out to everybody who’s purchased something from you in the past week. Here’s your first question:

Matrix Question At first glance this question doesn’t seem so bad, but there are a few things you can do to immediately improve this matrix question. First, make the response options briefer by removing the unnecessary N/A and also the numbers.

So if you’d like to use numbers in your analysis, try the “use weights” option when you are creating your survey. That way your survey won’t be cluttered and you can still find the average rating in Analyze:


Matrix Question: Revision4 quick tips for writing good matrix questions

  1. Keep response options short (response options are the columns of possible responses)
  2. Try to display only 5 or fewer response options
  3. Keep the item wording short (items are the rows)
  4. Again, try to display only 5 or fewer items

Don’t worry if your matrix question doesn’t satisfy the guidelines above, you can still use the questions you’ve written. In fact the example we gave doesn’t exactly abide by those rules either. You can improve the experience for your respondents and get better data by doing one of two things: either breaking up your matrix into individual questions or breaking up your large matrix into several smaller matrixes.

Here’s a look at the individual question format: MatrixImage_4 And a peek at smaller matrixes: Break up smaller matrixes

Another thing to keep in mind: mobile devices. We’ve talked a lot about them recently, because we’ve observed more and more people are responding to surveys using a smartphone or tablet. The horizontal formatting of matrix questions isn’t ideal for smartphones. Take a look at the matrix question from our customer satisfaction survey above on a mobile device:


In a word—yikes. If you do think that most of your responses are going to come from mobile respondents, regardless of the size of the matrix, you may want to consider not using that question type and breaking them out into individual questions. At the very least, test to see if the matrix question looks okay on your mobile device and check to see if the buttons are easy for people to click or tap. Here’s our suggestion:

MobileMatrix2 There you have it, matrix fans. Don’t worry about getting stuck in the matrix, we’ve got you covered. And if you’re looking for even more tips on how to successfully use these question types, be sure to take a look at our Survey Makeover Series how-to video on just that.

Have questions for Sarah? Leave them for her in the Comments section below and thanks for reading!

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  • Julia Jules Warner

    Really good aritcle- I do a lot of paid survey for companies and on a iphone they are impossble and even on a ipad they can be extremely hard.
    Related note, is there a way to tell an iphone/ ipad that a field is numerical to stop it defaulting back to keyboard each time you move to next field?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi there, Julia!

      Glad you enjoyed the article. We do offer a numerical text question type, which will only allow for respondents to enter in a number value as an answer. Perhaps that will work for what you’re trying to achieve! You can check it out here:

      If you’re looking for a more specific default setting on your iPhone/iPad, I’m afraid that’s not something we’re not experts in. However, you may want to check in with Apple support. Hope this helps!

      • Julia Jules Warner

        No, I did mean in the survey, I shall haven’t play and see if it “makes” the apple product know to stay numerical.

        Thank you.

      • Francis Young

        It would be far better to have a number field type available in SurveyMonkey, KT.

        This would need to have a CSS style associated with it to trigger the automatic recognition by a browser on an iOS device that this is a number, and consequently to switch the keyboard to numeric, then back to text for the next field.

        I strongly encourage SurveyMonkey’s developers to look at the iOS technical requirements to produce a numeric field option for your surveys, as this would have widespread and immediate useability benefits.

        • KTsurveymonkey

          Thanks so much for the feedback, Francis. You can also provide that feedback directly to our devs by clicking on the “Feedback” tab on the right hand side of the design page! This is a great idea, and with more and more people taking surveys by mobile, the need is surely greater!

  • Linda Bacon

    I use a kindle fire and I agree with you completely. Lots easier to read. My vision is impaired, and I have a hard time focusing on all those colons.

  • Linda Bacon

    Good article. What you said is what I’ve been thinking.

  • The HR Gypsy

    I’m wondering why you recommend eliminate “N/A”. In your example, if someone went in and bought something and had no interaction with the sales staff, by forcing an answer without providing “N/A” as an option you are not getting accurate responses. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi there!

      Great question. The folks surveyed in this case were specifically folks who purchased something, so the N/A option didn’t quite apply for that audience.

      However, if the survey was provided to anyone who had gone into the store, then you would be absolutely right and the N/A or skip logic would be used so that folks would only get this question if they interacted with the staff in any way.

      Hope that helps out!

  • Gavin Marchbank

    Surely SurveyMonkey plans to help their users out and provide us with responsive surveys? There must be a massive demand for mobile optimized functionality. I’m all for trying tips and tricks to make the survey “work” on a smartphone, but that isn’t enough. UX is becoming a huge thing, if it already isn’t, and the UX of these surveys needs to be addressed. By the workman AND his tools…

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Absolutely Gavin. We are in the works of making our Mobile app not only be a place to create and analyze surveys, but take them as well. We know that mobile is the wave of the future, and everyone will be taking surveys on the go. It’s definitely in our pipeline! For the time being, we are trying to get the word out there and educate folks about what works best for mobile optimization. Thanks for your feedback.

  • Selena

    Hi there: I have created a survey that uses the matrix design. however I want my choices to range from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1). when I ran the analysis I do not get the bar graft as I do with simple MC questions. what do I need to do?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi there, Selena!

      We’d love to take a look at the specific question you’re having issues with. Would you mind emailing support at so we can double check the question and the charts? Thanks!

  • zahra

    Thanks so much beneficial.

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