What they are, when and how to use them and how to analyse the results they generate
To get the most out of your survey, you need to include open-ended survey questions, and here’s why:
Closed end questions limit you just to the range of answers you can think of up front. This is fine for simple questions (yes/no, rating scales, etc...) but things get tricky when trying to understand more complex opinions.
This article provides you with a complete guide to open-ended survey questions, including what open-ended questions are, why you should use them, and how to analyse your open-ended survey results. This will help you weigh up when to use them, and when to use closed-ended questions instead.
Open-ended questions allows a survey respondent to give an answer without restriction. In this sense, they are truly open-ended, unlike closed questions which restrict answers to a set list of pre-defined responses.
A basic example is:
"What did you enjoy most about your visit?"
Here, the respondent is free to name anything that they enjoyed rather than being forced to pick from a pre-defined list. This can provide a richness and depth that closed-ended questions cannot give, as well as insight into emotions and in-depth descriptions of events or customer experiences that are hard to pre-empt.
Often, open-ended survey questions are paired with closed questions and to provide a "why?" follow-up answer. For example, we might first ask a closed question,
How would you rate the service of [X]?
Then, for anyone who rates the service as "poor", we could ask a follow-up open question:
“Why do you say the service you received was poor?”
Here are the key considerations when writing open-ended questions:
Open-ended and closed questions each have strengths and weaknesses. Here are some questions to consider when choosing between the two:
If the answer is “yes” then most likely you should use a closed-ended question. Examples of closed-ended questions can be found in the next section, and include demographics questions such as age, gender, employment status, numeric questions, scale (also known as ordinal) questions and the simple, classic ‘Yes/No’ response. Consider including a ‘Don’t know’ or ‘Not applicable’ code to avoid forcing a response.
Ensure your questionnaire is balanced overall to avoid respondent fatigue.
Too many open-ended questions will be off putting, and people will stop giving answers, too few and customers will feel like they weren’t given an opportunity to give the feedback they wished.
This question type lies between a closed question and an open-ended one. It provides a pre-defined list of responses plus the option to choose ‘other’ and type in a response not included in the list. This type of question works well when a comprehensive list of responses cannot be pre-defined. It avoids leaving the respondent feeling frustrated if their response is not included in the closed list.
Here are five open-ended question ideas and five closed-ended examples to get you started.
Given the wide-ranging and varied responses you will collect from an open question, you will need a way to categorise and quantify the responses in order to analyse them.
Coding is a method of categorising each response in a structured way so the themes they express can be grouped, counted and analysed.
You should think about this step early in your planning, to ensure you have a clear idea of how and when you will process the responses collected.
For example, with the right tools in place, you can begin the process of coding in parallel with your data collection, rather than causing delay by waiting until the end of fieldwork.
Our software, codeit, is a dedicated tool that speeds up coding through the use of text analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Sign up for a 30 day free trial to help you start coding and analysing your open-ended question data.
When deciding whether to include open-ended questions in your survey, or when a closed-ended question could be better, use this simple checklist alongside this guide to get the best conclusions to your business questions within your budget:
Once you’ve completed steps 1-4, codeit offers a 30 day free trial to help you start coding and analysing your open-ended question data.
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