Why you shouldn't use or_other with SurveyCTO

The or_other option is an Open Data Kit feature for automatically including an option to specify an unlisted open/text answer in response to a select_one or select_multiple field (e.g. "select_one choicelist or_other"). Though SurveyCTO supports this feature we do not document it or encourage its usage because it has the following limitations:

  1. You cannot dynamically filter your choice lists when you use or_other.
  2. The label of the 'specify other' text field generated by or_ther is automated and cannot be directly translated into a custom language if your form is in multiple languages.
  3. You also cannot use the ability to pre-load choices from an external file with or_other.When you select the “other” option added by or_other in a select_one field, the value “other” is stored in the select_one field (even though it isn’t in your choice list).
  4. However, if you have numeric values for all your other choices, your select_one data will be a mix of numbers and strings. This means when you import your data into another analysis tool like Stata or SPSS, that entire column will be classified as a string rather than a categorical variable. This will make the analysis more complex as it will require converting the strings to numbers before analysis can be done. The table below illustrates how the data is exported. You will clearly see the string ‘other’ that is automatically generated. 
    single_choice single_choice_other
    other This is the other value specified
    As such, you will have to do string cleaning on it first.
  5. If you use Stata and are using our auto-generated .do file to label your data, this will cause the .do file to give an error in cases. This is because Stata will try to label the numeric values of select_one fields in spite but Stata cannot label a variable that is a mix of numbers and strings (it is classified as a string). This is especially critical as issues relating to this tend to only show up during analysis.


To learn more about how SurveyCTO formats exported data, including select_multiple data, read this topic.

What should I do instead?

We have an article on creating an open response field after a multiple choice question that asks users to "specify other" that specifically addresses this.

Do you have thoughts on this support article? We'd love to hear them! Feel free to fill out this feedback form.



Article is closed for comments.