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Single code and multicode questions

November 19, 2013

2012-11-15

The other day one of my clients was talking about multiple choice questions and it was strange – the term really jarred in my head. It just didn’t feel right in the research context.  How odd, I’ve really never noticed that before.

I know what multiple choice questions are of course – they are what you see in magazine quizzes or some types of exams at school or university.

The response options are multiple, and the person answering has a choice of which to choose.

In the broadest sense there is no huge difference between a questionnaire I would write and multiple choice questions in these situations.

So why did it feed so weird to me?

I think it is simply because we researchers tend to use different terminology to describe questions that we write, based around the way the question should be answered.

We say that questions are either single code or multicode.

A single code question is a question where only one answer can be selected from a list.  It might be accompanied by the instruction “Please tick one only”.

A single code question could be single code because selecting one answer makes logical sense, for example:

Q         How satisfied or dissatisfied would you say you are with Facebook?

a) Very satisfied

b) Fairly satisfied

c) Neither satisfied or dissatisfied

d) Fairly dissatisfied

e) Very dissatisfied

A single code question could also be single code because selecting one answer is imposed by the researcher, for example:

Q         What is your favourite social media platform?  (Please tick one only)

a) Facebook

b) Twitter

c) Pinterest

d) Youtube

e) Something else

Conversely, a multicode question is a question where more than one answer can be selected from a list.  It might be accompanied by the instruction “Please tick all that apply”.  For example:

Q         Which social media platforms have you used this week?  (Please tick all that apply)

a) Facebook

b) Twitter

c) Pinterest

d) Youtube

e) Something else

When researcher write a questionnaire, the instruction ‘single code’ or ‘multicode’ would be written against each closed question, to make sure that the interviewer or the person setting up the survey electronically knows how many answers should be accepted for each question.  This ensures that the right kind of data is collected and analysed appropriately, and it acts as a helpful record to be used if the survey is replicated in the future.

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