Table of Contents
What are open-ended questions?
Open-ended questions ask respondents to write ‘free form’ answers, giving them the freedom to elaborate on experiences with a longer response.
Typically, open questions start with ‘How’, ‘Tell’, or ‘Why’.
Open-ended questions allow people to provide more descriptive answers, where they can give their own perspectives as opposed to choosing a pre-written answer.
What are close-ended questions?
Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered by selecting from a pre-written set of answers. Usually, these are multiple-choice questions that can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or another simple answer.
These question types collect concise quantifiable data that requires statistical analysis.
Open ended vs. closed ended questions
Think of these as ‘tasks’ with different outputs. Close-ended questions ask for a single word answer (or short pieces of information) to draw conclusions based on statistical analysis
Open questions require more meaningful answers based on respondents’ personal experiences. You would then identify patterns and trends in the responses through qualitative analysis.
When to ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are perfect for when you need respondents to expand on their closed-question responses.
For example, when running a NPS survey, you will ask customers to rate how likely they are to recommend your business to a friend or colleague on a scale of 0 (not at all likely) to10 (Extremely likely).
Responses to this type of question will indicate what scores respondents chose, but not why they chose them.
Asking an open question after this will give you the additional information you need to improve your Net Promoter Score in the future.
Open-ended question examples
Open-ended questions enable you to go beyond learning what customers think, they can give you valuable insight into why they think that way.
Here are 10 examples of open-ended questions you can use in your survey:
- What problems did our product solve for you?
- How can we improve our product or service?
- Why did you choose us over our competitors?
- Tell us about your experience with us so far:
- Explain why you chose that answer:
- How do you feel about our customer service?
- Do you have any questions or concerns for us?
- Describe why you think our product is good value for money?
- Where did you experience friction on our website?
- What is stopping you from purchasing now?
Advantages of open-ended questions
Here are some of the other major advantages to using open questions in your surveys:
- Get detailed responses:
Open-ended questions require more in-depth answers, producing more meaningful results.
- Collect unexpected answers:
You may collect feedback you wouldn’t otherwise have anticipated. E.g. problems with a product/service.
- Build an understanding of your audience:
The information allows you to build profiles on your target population. E.g. demographics, hopes, and fears.
- No limitations:
Respondents aren’t restricted in any way, giving them the freedom to be honest.
- You don’t need a large respondent pool:
Even with a smaller research population, you’d still collect ample data for analysis and discussion.
Generally, you don’t have to collect as many responses for open-ended feedback to be useful. But, if you’re struggling to get enough feedback then you should consider more ways of finding survey participants.
Disadvantages of open-ended questions
But, we shouldn’t ignore some of the disadvantages of using open-ended questions:
- Answers can be time-consuming for respondents
Open questions can be more time-consuming for participants, meaning they’re more likely to experience survey fatigue.
- Response analysis takes more time
Analyzing responses also takes more time and effort.
- Open feedback is more personal, and less general
The results are generally qualitative, meaning you cannot generalize them to a wider population.
- Questions are more open to interpretation
If your question is framed or worded incorrectly, there is a risk of influencing answer choices. E.g. Leading questions, loaded words, and phrases.
To ensure your questions are as neutral as possible, see our tips for writing survey questions.
Tips for using open-ended questions
1. Don't write leading questions
The whole point of an open question is to allow respondents to write a unique answer. If you influence their response by writing leading questions, your data will not be truthful.
2. Ensure all questions are necessary
Draft a list of questions and identify those most important to meeting your research goals. You’ll want your questionnaire to be as short as possible, otherwise, you risk taxing participants. Which will lead to answer-dishonesty or drop-outs.
3. Use open ended and close ended questions
This will provide you with both statistical and inferential data. Giving you a fuller understanding of your target population and two sources of data to draw from in your conclusion.
4. Avoid ‘Why?’ questions
Not all respondents can provide a reason for something, or may not be aware of their reasoning for things. In these cases, it’s possible for respondents to make up reasons without necessarily believing them. This will negatively impact your results.
5. Don't write questions that illicit a one word response
When writing your questions, frame them in a way that requires a story rather than a one or two-word answer. The more engaging a question is, the more likely you are to receive a genuine response.
Analyzing open questions: 'bucketing' method
‘Bucketing’ is a useful method for sorting qualitative data into categories for analysis.
1. Read every answer
Naturally, evaluating open feedback can be time-consuming. However, it is essential to understand the full scope of opinions and experiences detailed in your data.
2. Identify trends and patterns
Sort similar responses into categories (or ‘Buckets’) for each of your questions. These could be as simple as ‘Positive Opinions’, ‘Neutral Opinions’, and ‘Negative Opinions’. This is also known as multi-coding.
It’s fine if a response goes in more than one Bucket, as multiple ideas or opinions may be expressed. But it’s important that each response is in at least one category.
3. Create sub-categories (optional)
If you have a wide range of opinions expressed in one Bucket, we’d suggest you create sub-categories.
This will make your analysis more manageable.
4. Review each category
Once every response has been placed into a Bucket, decide if you should combine or split any. Each bucket should clearly illustrate a trend or pattern in your results.
If you’ve also used closed questions, they should be used to provide context to open feedback and trends.
5. Write a summary of the major trends
There should be some meaningful correlation to the trends in your responses you can use to summarize your results. This summary can be supported by words/ quotes from respondents.
Once this is done, your conclusion should be clear. Whether it’s to action changes to product development or to improve web page usability.
If the above method of analyzing open feedback isn’t quite right for you, take a look at this article from Research Methodology on qualitative data analysis.
Examples of open-ended questions for survey research
We’ve chosen some of the most common survey types and provided examples of open-ended questions for you.
Market research surveys
When collecting statistical data, as you would in market research surveys, it’s also important to ask why respondents chose particular answers. Here are some open questions you can ask:
- How would you improve our product/ service?
- How do you feel about the price of the product?
- What challenges did you have in the customer service process?
- Why did you choose our product over our competitors’?
- What is holding you back from a purchase?
Employee satisfaction surveys
Employee satisfaction surveys are much more personal than other types of surveys. So, it’s essential that you ask for their open feedback to learn why they’ve chosen certain answers.
- Tell us about your relationship with your line manager?
- How do you feel about the communication processes in the company?
- What do you know about our mission statement?
- Why did you apply for a position with us?
The same goes for education surveys, where collecting closed questions isn’t quite enough to learn what’s working and what isn’t.
- What was the most rewarding aspect of the course?
- How would you improve the course content?
- Why did you sign up for the course?
- In what ways would you change the course delivery?
The rich data you collect from open-ended questions allows you to better understand your target audience. This can be a valuable asset for all types of research. E.g. Open feedback from market research surveys can inform everything from product development to customer service processes.
When choosing between close or open-ended questions, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, they work better when used together.
Begin each line of questioning with a close-ended question, then follow it up with an open-ended question.
This way, you not only gather quantitative data but also unique answers that give context to answer choices.