Some consider responding to survey questions as a sophisticated cognitive process whereby respondents go through, often iterative, steps to process the information provided to them by questions and response options. Others focus more on the interplay between questions and answers as a complex communication process between researchers and respondents, their assumptions, expectations and perceptions. In this article, cognitive and communication research is reviewed that has tested the impact of different question and answer alternatives on the responses obtained. This leads to evidence-based recommendations for market researchers, who frequently have to make decisions regarding various aspects of questionnaire design such as question length and order, question wording, as well as the optimal number of response options and the desirability or otherwise of a ‘don’t know’ option or a middle alternative.
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