The Pros and Cons of Using Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions allow respondents taking your survey to include more information, giving you, the researcher, more useful, contextual feedback. Open ended questions allow you to better understand the respondent’s true feelings and attitudes about the survey subject. Close ended questions, due to their limitations, do not give respondents the choice to truly give their opinions.

Both closed and open ended questions used in surveys have their benefits. With the proper balance of both types of questions, asked in the right sequence, the goals of online surveys are efficiently met. The pros and cons of both types are often discussed to assess which type to use in the specific situation. It is often pointed out that the open ended question type yields more candid information and unique insight for researchers and can cut down on response errors.

There are some hot new trends on how to customise business for your customers and at the heart of them, is improving interactions with your target audience. Customers are growing ever more informed, with more and more data at their fingertips, and like to compare you to other competitors. By asking questions that have high-value, you can find out what your customers are really thinking.

The Value of Open Ended Questions

Let’s investigate the concept of ‘high-value questions’ – questions that provide insight for both parties administering and taking part in the survey. A greater understanding of the answers respondents give when answering open ended questions helps you build a better picture of how to achieve customer satisfaction. Happier customers will mean more repeat business and referrals.

Open ended questions in surveys solicit additional information to be contributed by respondents. They are sometimes also called infinite response questions, or unsaturated type questions. Generally open ended questions require respondents to answer in more than just one or two words. For example, after an event you could ask a simple, closed ended question;

‘Did you enjoy the conference?’

This can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Alternatively, you could ask an open ended question;

‘Can you tell me the value you feel you have received by attending this conference?’

When respondents provide feedback in open ended questions such as these, the information will give you a clearer understanding of the value proposition of the service you are providing. This not only gives you insight but also reinforces the opinion in your respondents’ minds, providing a two-way street in the value offering.

Survey Questions
Open ended questions

Examples of Open Ended Questions

We thought it might be useful to show examples of high value, open ended questions:

  • What did you like about your recent shopping experience?
  • What don’t you like about your current service provider/product?
  • What outcome/result are you looking for?
  • What’s the biggest obstacle preventing you from reaching the required outcome?
  • What will make this a successful meeting for you?

Turning Questions into Open Ended Questions

Decide on objectives for your survey. What do you want to know? Where appropriate, ask open ended questions in order to gather more qualitative data. Simply follow up a closed ended question with one asking for more detail about why the respondent has given that answer.

When discussing the pros and cons of questions of the open end question type, the following advantages and disadvantages are discussed. The advantages of open ended questions are that they are regarded by respondents as less threatening, and also, they allow them to give unrestrained or free responses; such questions can be very useful with articulate users. On the other hand, the open end question type can necessitate too much time for respondents to answer. Besides time consuming, open ended questions have yet another disadvantage – they may yield a lot of unnecessary information. A final drawback of open ended question is that they can require a lot of effort by respondents.

That is why in an online survey check list, one of the mandatory criteria for checking is to inspect the balance of closed and open ended questions. Closed questions have their main advantage of needing little time to answer them. However, authors of survey questions should weigh the balance and appropriateness of open ended or closed questions, and gauge which type to choose for each item of information asked about. Here they should be reminded once again of the disadvantage of closed questions which are often perceived by respondents to be leading, or even threatening; furthermore, closed questions can yield misleading assumptions and discourage disclosure of true opinions. Compared to this disadvantage, the advantage of the open end question type is even more obvious. Very often the eliciting of information requires the frank disclosure of opinions, and open ended questions enable respondents to freely express them. Furthermore, they do not feel open ended questions as leading (and thus irritating) or threatening.

So the open end question type definitely has its significance for the objective of gathering candid opinions from respondents. Surveying provides companies with valuable access to perceptions of products and services. With finely tuned surveys, researchers can gain insight into their customers’ satisfaction, and also of the reasons why some potential shoppers give up their products or services. By including questions of the open end question type, researchers often obtain unique insight provided by respondents who feel free to express their opinions, views, recommendations, or criticism. The value of such questions outweighs the disadvantages, including the inconvenience of answers to open ended questions being difficult to analyse, and not easily fitting into statistical analysis models.

Want to Learn More

Our team is ready to help you on your journey to get the most from your research. If you want to discuss your survey requirements and how our services can benefit you, get in touch and tell us what you need.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2012 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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