Quality & Quantity 38: 113–125, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
“Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Tell
Us” – Methodological Issues in the Use of
Free-Text Comments from Postal Surveys
, JULIE EVANS and MAGGIE RESHAW
National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Oxford University;
UK Medical Careers Research Group,
Department of Psychology, University of the West of England, Bristol
Abstract. Free-text comments are often invited at the end of self-completion questionnaires, yet
text books provide no guidance on how these might be used. We describe a variety of ways in which
free-text comments can be used, drawing on two examples.
An Audit Commission study of NHS maternity care included a national sample survey of 3570
women who gave birth in June and July 1995. At the end of the questionnaire women were asked: Is
there anything else you would like to tell us about your care while you were pregnant or since you
have had your baby.
The United Kingdom Medical Careers Research Group conducts whole-cohort longitudinal stud-
ies of graduates from all UK medical schools. At the end of each survey doctors are invited to write
comments on “any aspect of your training, career choices or work”.
The authors discuss the inherent limitations of free-text comments, the relative merits of quanti-
fying the frequencies of themes, and the ways in which free-text comments can be used to enhance
survey analysis. They conclude that while free-text comments are no substitute for properly de-
signed research, they are nevertheless valuable in understanding and illustrating participants’ survey
responses, and in suggesting topics for further research.
Key words: Free-text comments; self-completion questionnaires; surveys; open questions; method-
ology; maternity care; doctors’ careers.
It is common practice to include at the end of self-completion questionnaires an in-
vitation to respondents to add, in their own words, further information about issues
covered in the questionnaire. For example: “This page is for you to add any further
notes or comments. Please tell us anything you think is important” (Chamberlain
et al., 1993). These ‘last chance to tell’ invitations are rather different from the
open questions included in postal surveys that require the respondent to write in
a more speciﬁc piece of information, such as the name of a drug not covered in a
list of options, or from open-ended questions that are targeted at a speciﬁc topic
Address for correspondence: National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Health Sci-
ences, Oxford University, Old Road, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LF, U.K.