Helping Respondents Provide Good Answers in Web Surveys


  • Mick Couper University of Michigan
  • Chan Zhang Fudan University, Shanghai



Web survey, instrument design


This paper reports on a series of experiments to explore ways to use the technology of Web surveys to help respondents provide well-formed answers to questions that may be difficult to answer. Specifically, we focus on the use of drop-down or select lists and JavaScript lookup tables as alternatives to open text fields for the collection of information on prescription drugs. The first two experiments were conducted among members of opt-in panels in the U.S. The third experiment was conducted in the 2013 Health and Retirement Study Internet Survey. Respondents in each of the studies were randomly assigned to one of three input methods: text field, drop box, or JavaScript lookup, and asked to provide the names of prescription drugs they were taking. We compare both the quality of answers obtained using the three methods, and the effort (time) taken to provide such answers. We examine differences in performance on the three input format types by key respondent demographics and Internet experience. We discuss some of the technical challenges of implementing complex question types and offer some recommendations for the use of such tools in Web surveys.




How to Cite

Couper, M., & Zhang, C. (2016). Helping Respondents Provide Good Answers in Web Surveys. Survey Research Methods, 10(1), 49–64.




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