We examine the key advantages of using open ended questions in your surveys
Open-ended questions are used to collect the answer that your respondent or customer wants to give you, without restriction. Examples include “Why do you say the service you received was poor?”, or “What are the first things that come to mind after seeing this advert?”.
Here we focus on the advantages and disadvantages of including open-ended questions in your survey.
Once you’ve weighed up these pros and cons, you can find out more in our complete guide to open-ended survey questions.
It’s easy to imagine why you would want to add some open-ended questions to your survey: people can say more, and do it freely without the constraints of a list of options to choose from. But the benefits run wide and deep, and in this section we list out ten benefits of open-ended survey questions in detail.
We asked 1200 respondents what was on their bucket list, with an open-ended response box.
With such a question, there are endless possibilities in people’s heads that you can’t preempt while writing your questionnaire.
In our case, the results ranged from “visit glass beach” to “meet Bruce Lee”. With a question like this, the possibilities are limitless and using an open-ended question gave us access to that.
When designing surveys, inevitably questions are written and codelists drawn up with your own knowledge in mind. Even if you do some initial qualitative research, it will be among a small number of people so your response list will always be limited. Allowing respondents to write their own freeform answers means you won’t simply get answers you had already thought of.
Taking our bucket list question, if you had a pre-coded list you may have listed ‘travel’ or even added ‘travel to New Zealand’ but you would never
have got to “Watch England play rugby in New Zealand”, as appeared in our survey results. When appropriate, open-ended questions allow you to get to the real root of the issue, which would be hidden behind a broad topic on a codelist.
Particularly in Customer Satisfaction research, you want to understand specifically what happened when a customer received really poor service, so that you can really understand that specific issue. This is why open-ended questions are so important in delivering the detailed, often case-by-case answers that are actionable.
Open-ended responses bring research to life. With a completely closed-ended data set, you will never really ‘touch’ individual insights or get a sense of the real people answering. Unlike data you get from pre-coded questions, verbatim quotes from real people help illustrate conclusions in an engaging way.
Open-ended questions give a chance for your customers to let you know how they really feel. Only offering closed options may annoy them if they feel they have not been given an opportunity to tell you what they think in their own words.
If you want your respondent or customer to get to the end of your 20+ question survey, it better be interesting. Surveys should be interesting to complete, not least to encourage people to take part in the first place but also to ensure they make the effort to reach the end!
Even more important for Customer Satisfaction surveys, where a lack of open-ended questions can be a real disadvantage as people may get a negative feeling for your brand because they were not given the chance to say something they wanted to.
If you have given your customers the chance to provide feedback, it is useful to ask a follow up question to ascertain if the customer would like to be contacted. Provided you have the resources to do so in a timely way, this can bring back positive sentiment to a previously unhappy customer and enables you to rectify the effects of poor service or other issues faced.
Just because we collect verbatim, free form text answers in an open-ended question, doesn’t mean you can’t analyse them effectively. The benefit of including open-ended questions in your quantitative survey results is getting the best of both worlds. Once coded into the topics and sentiment
covered in the open-ended answers, using a coding tool such as codeit, you can produce analysis by key demographics and pull out specific verbatim answers to illustrate those statistically robust findings.
As well as these ten benefits of open-ended questions, there are a few disadvantages to consider. Bear these in mind when planning your surveys to ensure you get the balance right between the pros and cons of open-ended questions.
It takes time to field, code and analyse the resultsOpen ended questions take more time to answer and need to be coded before you can see the results, but whilst the coding process initially involves human coders looking at answers and applying ‘codes’, it is also possible to become more efficient over time with the use of machine learning and AI tools, incorporated in dedicated coding platforms such as codeit.
Fieldwork and analysis costs will be higherThe bottom line is it’s cheaper to field a closed end question vs. fielding and coding an open-ended response. But given what we’ve said here, it’s short-sighted to miss out on the advantages of using open ended questions.
You will get polarised answers, with less in the middleThose who have had a particularly positive or negative experience will have more to say than those in the middle, but in reality it’s those answers that will help drive your business decisions in the right direction.
It’s more difficult to process and interpret your open-ended dataScale questions and straightforward answers are easy to analyse, giving you statistically significant results with the right sample sizes, even within a few hours of launching your survey. Coding takes skill and can be fiddly to undertake, unless you have a dedicated coding platform such as codeit.
Despite all the benefits of open-ended questions, given there are disadvantages, should you include open-ended questions in your survey? The answer is of course yes. Here’s a few helpful points to help you set the balance right for both your survey and your respondents, and end up with a data set that fulfils your business questions.
Once you’ve weighed up the benefits and disadvantages of open-ended questions and fielded your survey, codeit offers a 30 day free trial to help you start coding and analysing your open-ended question data.
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