What is a close-ended question?
Close-ended questions are those that start with ‘Can’, ‘Did’, ‘Will’ or ‘Have’. Most commonly, they take the form of multiple-choice questions, where respondents choose from a set list of answers.
You would use closed-ended questions to collect quantitative data. From which you’d determine some ‘statistical significance’. They’re usually simpler than their open-ended counterparts, allowing respondents to quickly answer.
Examples of close-ended questions
Typically, closed questions will have a one-word answer, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no. In these cases you would ask questions like:
- Do you like our service?
- Is London the capital of England?
- Can you run 5 kilometres?
- Have you enjoyed the event?
However, there are examples of close-ended questions that require answers other than yes or no.
- What year were you born?
- On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you?
- Which university did you attend?
- How often do use public transport?
Open questions ask participants to write unique responses, which are free form. They’re more suited to exploratory research that looks to describe a subject based on trends and patterns. However, they require more effort and time to answer.
Examples of open-ended questions
- What did/ didn’t you like about our service?
- Which aspects of the event were you most satisfied with?
- How would you change our product?
- What did you expect to happen?
Learn more about open-ended questions.
Differences between open-ended and close-ended questions
The difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions lies in the data they collect. Closed questions collect data that can be used to draw generalized conclusions based on statistical analysis.
Open-ended questions ask respondents to describe a subject. You’d then look for trends and patterns in the responses you’ve collected. Think of these question styles as ‘tasks’ with different outputs.
However, the quality of data you collect depends on the way you write questions. E.g. If you write leading questions, your data will not be accurate. Learn how to write survey questions.
Advantages of closed-ended questions
- People can answer quickly
- Easier to understand and interpret
- Results are easy to analyze
- Answer options provide context to questions
- People are more likely to answer sensitive questions
- Respondents can’t give irrelevant answers
- You can include an Other text box with close-ended questions if a respondent wants to provide a unique answer
People will feel less friction when answering closed questions.
Disadvantages of closed-ended questions
Conversely, here are a few problems with using closed questions:
- Your answer lists can provoke choices that participants otherwise wouldn’t make
- Some respondents may feel that none of the set answers reflects their own opinion or experience. In these cases, they may choose to skip the question or even select an answer at random
- Too many answer choices may deter or confuse respondents. So, you should only provide the most important and relevant options. See our article on writing survey answers
- It’s difficult to identify those who misunderstand a question and choose the wrong answer as a result
- The format of close-ended questions may be too simple for complex issues. Especially if a respondent wants to provide more detail on a subject
- To identify ‘statistical significance’ in results, you’ll need to collect a larger data set
As close-ended questions have specific answers, they must be consistent and clear. Any ambiguity can affect the way people answer and can lead to different types of response bias.
Tips for using close-ended questions
1. Become an expert but write questions for those who aren’t
It’s important to fully understand your research topic to ask the right questions and provide the right answers. It’s also your job to translate what you know into terms that are understandable for respondents.
If they can’t understand your questions or answers, then the data you collect will be at risk.
2. Keep questions simple and clear
Your questions should be specific and concise. The longer and more complex questions are, the more likely participants are to misinterpret or disengage.
3. Ensure answer choices are exclusive and exhaustive
Ensure that the answer choices for closed questions are both exhaustive and exclusive.
Exhaustive answer lists are those that provide the entire range of choices (e.g. Very Unsatisfied – Very Satisfied).
Exclusive answer lists ensure no choices share intent or meaning. The most common form of this is where numbered groups overlap, e.g. 18-25, 25-35, 35-45. If a participant is 25 they won’t know whether to select 18-25 or 25-35.
However, words with similar or indistinguishable meanings can also cause issues, e.g. ‘Fine’ and ‘Satisfactory’.
4. Only provide relevant answers
You should be able to anticipate what kind of answers respondents will give for each question.
If you can’t, your question may be too broad or complex.
Closed-ended question examples for surveys
Below are a few examples of closed questions in surveys. The examples are from the most common survey types. Including market research, employee satisfaction and event feedback.
Market research surveys
- Would you recommend our product/ service?
- How helpful was our customer service?
- Please rate our service:
- How likely are you to purchase from us again?
Employee satisfaction surveys
- How satisfied are you with the level of communication in your department?
- Do you feel you use your skills and abilities to their fullest in your role?
- Are your goals clearly defined?
- Do you know what your KPIs are?
- Do you have a good work/ life balance?
Event feedback surveys
- Will you be attending the event?
- Was the event good value for money?
- How could we improve the check-in process?
- Was there enough time to network/ meet other guests?
Close-ended questions limit respondents to answer choices provided by the researcher. They’re an effective means of collecting quantitative data, but do not explore the meaning or intent of participant responses.
However, open-ended and closed questions can be used in tandem. By doing so, you’re able to collect qualitative data alongside the statistical responses.
This will give you a more well-rounded understanding of your respondents. As you not only learn what they think but also give context to their choices with the open feedback.
We’d suggest you begin a line of questioning with a few close-ended questions. Then follow up with an open-ended question to provide context.