Open-ended question definition
Open questions allow for ‘free form’ answers, where participants respond in their own words, at a longer length. Typically, these questions start with ‘How’, ‘Tell, and ‘Why’.
Those responses are usually sentences, lists, or stories that provide descriptive accounts of a participant’s opinion or experience.
Close-ended questions can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’ or with a short piece of specific information. The answer options are usually multiple-choice but can also be ratings or Likert scales.
These question types collect concise statistical data that you can easily analyze.
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 participants’ personal experiences. You would then identify patterns and trends in the responses.
Open-ended questions examples
- What are your expectations for the course?
- How could we improve the event?
- What is it like living in New York?
- Tell us about your experience so far:
- Why did you choose that answer?
- What are your plans for the weekend?
- How does this make you feel?
Advantages of open-ended questions
- Open-ended questions require more in-depth answers. Meaning you collect more meaningful results.
- You may collect feedback you wouldn’t otherwise have anticipated. E.g. problems with a product/service.
- The information allows you to build profiles on your target population. E.g. demographics, hopes and fears.
- No restrictions on the length or complexity of a participant’s answer.
- Even with a smaller research population, you’d still collect ample data for analysis and discussion.
Disadvantages of open-ended questions
- Open questions can be more time consuming for participants, meaning they’re more likely to experience survey fatigue.
- Analyzing responses also takes more time and effort.
- The results are generally qualitative, meaning you cannot generalize them to a wider population.
- 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 in any way, your data will not be accurate.
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, or you risk taxing participants. Which will lead to 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, respondents can make up reasons without necessarily believing them. This will negatively impact your results.
5. Don’t write questions that elicit 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 with ‘Bucketing’
‘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 each response must be 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.
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. 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.
Examples of open-ended survey questions
Market research surveys
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?