Gain Better Insights With Open-ended Questions

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Posted May 17, 2018
Cori Sheperis

When conducting online quantitative surveys, it is typical to use closed-ended questions more so than open-ended questions.  This is because, closed-ended questions provide answer categories and result in quantitative data that is easy to analyze.  It is also easier and faster for respondents to answer closed-ended questions.  While open-ended questions do not provide answer categories, they do allow the respondent to answer the question in his or her own words.  It takes more thought and effort from the respondent, but this results in qualitative data which is valuable in its raw form, and can also be coded and quantified.

Why include open-ended questions in a survey?

You can gather unexpected findings by using open-ended questions. Rather than having answers you predicted and assumed are applicable, an open-ended question allows the respondent to express their thoughts and feelings in their own words.  Even if you are asking a multiple choice closed-ended question, it may make sense to include an “other” option where the respondent can type in their own answer. Your respondents may mention something that you missed.

Even if you think you have written an inclusive and thorough survey using all closed-end questions, it is a good idea to include at least one open-ended question. Once a respondent has answered a handful of questions on a certain topic, their mind is primed and attuned to the issues raised.  Consider adding an optional “What else would you like to share about topic XYZ” at end of the survey. Most people will appreciate the opportunity to share even more than you could have imagined.  Some may go above and beyond the typical answer by including context and personal stories that can’t be gleaned from a closed-ended question. This raw and honest feedback produces a much more diverse set of answers and insights into the motivation, behavior and psyche of the respondent.

Writing Open-Ended Questions

A well written open-ended question will often use “how”, “what”, “which” and “when” and not bias the respondent.  The question should be phrased so that it elicits a storied response instead of one or two-word answers. When answering a properly structured open-ended question, the respondent is naturally led to think before responding. Some examples of good open-ended questions are as follows:

Instead of: “Do you think you would use this shopping app?”

Use: “How might this app change the way you shop today?”

Instead of: “Do you like this product?”

Use: “Which things did you like most about this product?”

Instead of: “Are you satisfied with this product?”

Use: “How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with this product?”

The Takeaway

Open-ended questions give the respondent freedom to convey their thoughts and feelings without being restricted. This type of qualitative data is rich and adds an additional layer of insights that would otherwise be missing from a survey comprised only of closed-ended questions. It does involve an extra step of coding if you want to quantify the answers, but on AYTM open-ended questions are presented on the stats page in word clouds with many cool features to easily decipher the data.

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