open ended que

Understanding the usage of open ended questions


Table of Contents

What are open ending questions?

Open ended questions provide the respondent with the freedom to express the answer in an elaborate manner and in their own words. These questions do not provide a structured list of answer choices to choose from which leads to greater subjectivity. These types of questions are frequently used to gather qualitative responses such as feedbacks.

For example:

Describe your dining experience with us?

Which brand is your go-to for fulfilling your electronic needs and why?

Did you encounter any problems when visiting our website?

All the above mentioned questions do not have a scripted list of answers which makes the usage of open ended questions, highly useful.

Transform your insight generation process

Create an actionable feedback collection process.

online survey

What are closed-ended questions?

Closed-ended questions provide a structured list of answer choices for the respondent to choose from. These are generally used when there is a limit to the answers one can provide for a question. Unlike open-ended questions, close -ended questions offer a high degree of objectivity which makes them easier to analyse.

For example:

Rising early in the morning increases productivity. Do you agree with the given statement?

(Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree)

Based on your experience, how likely are you to recommend our brand to a friend?

(Rating scale 1-10)

Are you the sole earning member of your family?

(Yes, No)

These kind of questions invite highly variable responses which cannot be predicted beforehand.

How to use open ended questions?

Open ended questions are a viable option when they can add value to the understanding process. If there is scope for usage of closed-ended questions, avoid using open ended questions altogether. Even though an elaborative answer can factor in multiple perspective, it is a highly cumbersome task to analyse the open ended question and draw a standardised conclusion.

Whenever going for open-ended questions, try to maintain a balance between open and close ended questions. Remember, it is much easier and faster to answer a close ended question while proper framing and elaboration on open ended questions takes time.

Pounding the respondent with a large number of open ended questions can be counter-productive. It can encourage practices like very small answers, that may not have any significant impact on the data collection process.

In a survey with 15 questions, maintain an upper limit of 3 open ended questions. An alternative approach can also be to repeat open-ended questions after fixed intervals (preferably 4-5 question gaps.).

It is also important to  ask the right questions in the right manner. A misinterpreted question can make the respondent give an incorrect response. Ensure that the question asks exactly what the organisation seeks to know.

Avoid using double barrelled or leading questions. You are interested in understanding the unbiased point of view of the respondent. Framing the question incorrectly will hinder the process of gaining authentic research responses.

You can even nudge the respondent to keep their answers to the point either by using a quantitative figure in the question itself or using words such as “briefly” or “in a few words”. This way, you can push the respondents to keep their answers to the point and concise.

Why use open ended questions?

Open ended questions provide genuine viewpoints: The answer provided by a respondent for an open ended questions are fully designed and framed by the respondent. There is no limitation and the respondent can express their idea and thoughts freely, without being restricted by pre-defined answer choices. Moreover, such viewpoints vary from person to person, thus, making the collective opinions more comprehensive and ensuring coverage of each and every perspective.

High utility for qualitative information: Qualitative aspects such as ideas, suggestions, feedback etc are more fully expressed when conveyed using open ended questions. There is no pre-requisite understanding of the type of information and so, open-ended questions de-limits the respondent allowing them to narrow down on each and every area of their answer.

Respondent engagement: Unlike closed ended questions, open ended questions puts the respondent mind to work. They ask the respondent to frame and convey their thoughts in their own way. This also hints towards the knowledge possessed by the respondent with respect to area under consideration.

Inserting open-ended questions is also used as a mechanism for testing the awareness and concentration of the respondent. Answering close-ended questions is a matter of choosing an option through a click. Sometimes, respondents tend to skim through the survey without paying much heed to the question or the option that they are choosing as their response. This is not the case with open questions wherein the need to put in a greater amount of effort and thought.

See Voxco survey software in action with a Free demo.

Disadvantages of using open-ended questions

Using open ended may be a good option to understand the unrestricted opinion of your target audience, however, using open-ended questions does come with certain drawbacks of its own.

Firstly, analysing open ended questions is not easy task. This is the reason why closed ended questions are considered a better alternative as they can be easily evaluated using statistical and data analysis techniques. Techniques such as thematic analysis is used to make sense out of text based data. Conducting manual analysis of text based data involves studying each and every response which is a long and complex process.

Secondly, respondents tend to give very small answers just for the sake of completing the survey. This hinders the complete understanding as there is very little information provided due to which such respondents might need to contacted to supplement their answers with additional reasoning. Respondents that are skimming through the survey might even skip the question altogether.

Open ended questions also suffer from language and structuring issues. Respondents might understand the question and may even know the pointers they’d like to include, but explaining the same thing in the form of a continuous answer may be something they’re not used. This results in a collective pool of responses with varied degrees of usability: some might be correctly framed and may include all the necessary details while others may be distorted answers unable to convey the entire meaning.

Download Market Research Toolkit

Get market research trends guide, Online Surveys guide, Agile Market Research Guide & 5 Market research Template

Making the most of your B2B market research in 2021 PDF 3 s 1.png

Explore all the survey question types
possible on Voxco

Read more