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Survey Science

The N/A answer choice: when it’s good to use and when it’s not

The N/A answer choice: when it’s good to use and when it’s not

Imagine this. You’re a product engineer for an automobile company; you’ve just finished designing the latest lineup of cars (congrats!) and now you need to figure out how to market your new brand to the world. Hm, how to do that? Well, with SurveyMonkey of course.

The first question you want to ask is, “How pleasant is your drive to work?” But asking this doesn’t apply to everyone however.

Asking this question to people who don’t drive to work will:

  1. Make the survey longer for no reason. Not good. Taking longer surveys ups your chances of people zoning out or even dropping out of your survey.
  2. Mess up your data. People who don’t drive to work have no idea how to answer this question and so will pick a random answer.

You can:

  1. Add a “No Opinion” answer choice.
  2. Add a “Not Applicable” answer choice.
  3. Add a customized not applicable answer choice, such as “I do not drive to work”.
  4. Use Skip Logic. To do that, first ask respondents if they drive first. If they say “yes”, they’ll see the “how pleasant is your drive to work” question. If they say “no”, they’ll skip over it.

What’s good about these choices? All these options give respondents who don’t drive a way to tell you that.

What’s not so good about these choices? The first three options have one major problem: they increase satisficing. When people are taking our survey, we want them to pay attention to each question carefully. When they instead zone out and pick any answer, that’s called satisficing.

Why? The first three options increase satisficing because they give respondents an easy way out–or an easy way to satisfice. By offering “No Opinion”, “Not Applicable”, or “I don’t drive” as answer choices, your respondents can pick it and not have to actually think about how to answer the question.

Going with Skip Logic is probably your best choice because it’s the only option that keeps the survey short, allows non-drivers to answer the question, and doesn’t give people an easy way out to satisfice. Picture driving on a highway with no exits. You keep driving–because you have to and you have no way of getting off the highway. A skip logic question keeps respondents going and concentrating without giving them an out.

The No Opinion, Not Applicable and customized response options may be more of a survey-taking challenge for your respondents, because they make the survey longer AND give people a pretty obvious way to satisfice. It’s not the most obvious, because for some questions you might have to think a bit about whether you actually have an opinion about it or if really is applicable to you. That’s especially the case because “applicable” could mean whether you actually drive to work or whether you have an opinion about your drive. Picture driving on the highway again, but this time, there’s a sign to exit. It’s not the most obvious sign and you might have to think for a split second about whether it’s the right exit, but it still is a simple, easy way to get off the highway.

So, the moral of the survey story? Although each answer choice has their own benefits, using Skip Logic will lead to a smoother survey experience for your respondents. Picture a drive with gentle curves in the road instead of sharp turns that might lead to a bumpier ride for your passengers.

Keep in mind too that your answer choices will vary depending on your survey’s goals so you shouldn’t feel limited in whatever response option you choose!

Have more survey science questions on the brain? Share them with us in the Comments section below!