22 January 2019 | by Oliver Harrison

How to Code Other/Specify Responses in Q

Coding open-ended responses can often be a tedious and time-consuming task for market researchers, especially when you include an ‘Other/specify’ option and then need to back code into the original question. In this post, I will show you how to easily code ‘Other/specify’ open-ends into a merged question.

In quantitative surveys there is often need to ask open-ended questions to learn more about a subject beyond the predetermined check options. I have already covered the topic of dealing with open-ended questions where you attempt to code these responses into a more manageable list of items based on common themes (see How to Code an Open-Ended Question into a Single Response Question in Q, How to Code an Open-Ended Question into a Multiple Response Question in Q and How to Code Open-Ended Responses with Multiple Mentions in Q).

In many cases, an ‘Other/specify’ question will also be used which combines a specified list of alternatives with one or more text fields for entering any response which does not fit the original list of options. If the question is well-written, often the main issue is not so much the volume of open-ended responses but having to then merge these responses either into pre-existing code choices or additional ones.

In the following example I have collected data on common devices used in a typical household and specifically asked the question ‘What devices do you own?’ This has been collected as a multiple response question with a single text variable which I wish to back code and merge into the original question. I will now outline the process below.

Setting up your coding

To set up coding for an ‘Other/specify’ question, you essentially need to treat the text variable(s) as if you are coding from scratch, except this time we will pull the code frame and data from a specific question. As we are coding a multiple response question, we need to set the coding up by highlighting the text variable in the Variables and Questions tab, right-clicking and selecting Insert Variable(s) > Code Text > New Code Frame > Manual Categorization and select the coding type that matches the structure of the question the ‘Other/specify’ variable comes from:  Mutually Exclusive Categories for a Pick One or Mutually Overlapping Categories for a Pick Any.

You will then be presented with a screen like below with the standard coding fields.

Coding your ‘Other/Specify’ question

When you code an ‘Other/Specify’ question, the majority of steps are the same as if you are coding a conventional open-ended question, bar a few key ones. I will now take you through this process.


  1. At the bottom left of the screen is an Inputs and Back Coding button. Clicking this will open up a new window where you can select the question to back-code into based on the question type. Simply select the question whose code frame and data you wish to share, in this case ‘Q6 – Device ownership’ and click OK. 
  2. Once you have made this selection, the code frame of the selected question will appear on the right. You can right-click and use the context menu to add further codes via Add Category or Import/Export Category Names. When you are dealing with a multiple response question, you will need to additionally click the original ‘Other (please specify)’ category in the coding window and select Is Other/Specify to ensure the new question doesn’t double-count the original ‘Other’ responses.
  3. Once you’re ready to start allocating uncoded responses to the code frame, simply highlight the responses on the left. The grey numbers in brackets represent the number of responses that fit this exact wording, regardless of case and leading or trailing spaces.
  4. Now select the category that you wish to allocate these responses to on the right. If this were a single response question, Q would automatically categorize the responses. For multiple response questions you will need to click the Categorize asMove to, or Add to buttons to complete the categorization. More information on multiple response coding is available in this post How to Code Open-Ended Responses with Multiple Mentions in Q.

In this case, ‘Galaxy S’ can rightly be merged into the existing option of ‘Samsung mobile phone’. The other responses require additional codes be created.

Once we click Save Categories, Q will automatically merge the original question’s data with our ‘Other/specify’ coding, including any additions to the code frame. This is why it is important to code in the same question format as the original question. So if your original question is single response, you need to also code as a single response (Pick One). If the original question is multiple response, you need to code as a multiple response (Pick Any).

Displaying your coding as a table

Once you have finished coding, you can then bring up the question as a table and use it in your analysis.

Discover how to do more in Q!

Author: Oliver Harrison

After completing a PhD in German history and literature, Oliver swapped old dusty books for computer screens and logic. He then enjoyed the next 10 years as a survey programmer and data analyst in the Australasian market research industry. Today Oliver is passionate about problem-solving and helping customers achieve their goals as a member of the Customer Success team at Displayr.

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