Asking questions allows us to figure out what people want, what they’re thinking, and how they’re feeling. There are many types of survey questions, open-ended questions, close-ended questions, multiple-choice, and single-choice, among others. If you want to gain reliable and actionable information, the way you ask a question makes a big difference. In fact, if you ask the same question in different ways you will sometimes get completely different answers.
But you don’t have to be completely oblivious or out of the loop when it comes to questions, especially if someone asks you to differentiate between open-ended and close-ended ones. And that’s exactly why we’re here today. We’re going to guide you through these two types of questions- we’ll explain what they are, how you can identify them, give you examples of each, and tell you how you can or should use them in surveys. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to apply your new-found knowledge to create your own study or analysis.
What Is An Open-Ended Question?
An open-ended question is one that requires the responder to give a complete answer- and one that usually makes use of the responder’s thoughts and emotions. Unlike close-ended questions, open-ended ones do not lead responders to choose an answer. Instead, they allow the responder to select, create, or imagine whatever answer they want because it’s how they feel, what they think happened, and their preferences. In essence, an open-ended question is one that has no finite group of answers to choose from.
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Identifying An Open-Ended Question
Identifying an open-ended question may be a little more difficult than identifying a close-ended one, simply because their responses can be short and simple, even though they were designed to elicit a well-thought-out answer from the responder. To understand when you’re looking at an open-ended question, don’t answer the question itself, but ask yourself whether it can be answered broadly or with detail.
Also, ask yourself whether the question aims to uncover a fact (like a date or time), or an opinion or emotion. Lastly, if the question allows room for an exchange to happen, in addition to the previous two requirements, then it is an open-ended question.
Open-Ended Questions in Surveys
Researchers use open-ended questions in their surveys to discover information they were not expecting. Because they let responders go into depth, open-ended questions help the researcher better understand people’s feelings, concerns, attitudes, and knowledge of the topic. They allow the responders to be more candid, which offers a unique kind of insight that cannot be given through yes/no or scaled questions. When conducting a survey it is important to consider how many open-ended questions to include and where to place them in order to maximize your response rate. Too many of these questions too early in your survey could tire or discourage your responders.
Examples of open-ended questions include:
- What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
- How are you planning on paying for college?
- Why is seeing this movie so important to you?
- Describe your relationship with your fellow employees.
- Explain what has been bothering you.
They usually begin with the words “why,” “how,” “what,” ”explain,” or “describe.”
Advantages & Disadvantages
Some pros and cons of open-ended questions:
- They allow an almost infinite number of answers
- Open-ended questions let responders go in-depth when answering the questions
- They let us understand topics more deeply
- It allows the responder to feel more like the center of attention
- They make responders more comfortable because there are no wrong answers
- They’re not practical to use when talking to large groups.
- Getting answers can take lots of time.
- Those who are more eloquent and/or educated/cultured have the advantage when answering this type of question.
- This type of question can easily intimidate responders.
- It’s not easy to get the same level of detail from everyone who answers the questions.
What Is A Close-Ended Question?
A close-ended question is one that is answered simply. Another way to describe it is that it’s a question that usually has the option, of “yes” or “no.” Although they’re thought of as being straightforward because they can be answered relatively easily (as their answer options are very limited), that’s not always the case. You’ll see later in our examples how complicated they can actually get.
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Identifying a Close-Ended Question
Identifying a close-ended question is pretty easy it’s because its answers are limited. A close-ended question is usually answered by multiple-choice options, rating scales (like scales of one to ten or “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”), and “yes” or “no.” These questions don’t give us nearly as much information as open-ended ones, but they can be helpful when writing exams and doing surveys. They tell us the either/or, and when or whether something will happen, but not the how or why.
Closed-Ended Questions in Surveys
Using close-ended questions in surveys can prove very useful. They are ideal for creating statistical information as there are only a few options to choose from. They make analyzing responses extremely easy because they are so clean. What that means is that there are not a multitude of different thoughts and feelings, but just a select group of limited options, grouping like responses takes little to no time. They are perfect for creating quantitative data.
Examples of close-ended questions include:
- When is your birthday?
- Will you eat pizza tonight? yes/no
- Did you enjoy going to high school? yes/no
- What is water made of? A. 2 hydrogen atoms & 1 oxygen atom/B. 1 hydrogen atoms & 2 oxygen atom/C. 2 carbon atoms & 2 oxygen atoms
- Are you an only child?
They usually begin with the words “are,” “will,” “won’t,” “did,” “do,” or “was.”
Advantages & Disadvantages of Close-Ended Questions
- They’re easy to answer.
- They provide facts.
- Answers from different people are easier to compare.
- It makes answering sensitive subjects easier.
- They allow the one asking the questions to maintain control of the conversation.
- An answer may not be a choice of the responder.
- These questions almost force people to make a choice.
- They allow people to give sometimes too simple answers to complicated issues.
- They get quite confusing if too many answer options are available.
- It’s difficult to realize when someone misunderstands or misinterprets a question.
When To Use Each Kind of Question
Remember that in surveys, close-ended questions allow for the collection of quantitative information, while open-minded ones give insight that allows managers and business owners to empathize with their employees and customers.
Also, note that the same thing can be asked with an open or close-ended question and each version will elicit two types of responses. For example, asking someone if they’re having a fun time or how they are feeling at the moment is almost the same thing, but one gives a lot more information than the other.
Use our survey creator to try out your new knowledge about question types. To get a good indication of when to use which type of question, check out our many survey templates. They will help you get started.