When you have questions and need answers, a survey is a surefire way to go! Crafting your survey questions correctly is key to getting a better response rate. However, it’s just as important to use the right type of survey question format. In this blog, we’ll take an in-depth look at open-ended survey questions (and their opposite, closed-ended questions), some of the best open-ended questions to ask, and more.
What Is an Open-Ended Survey Question?
Open-ended questions give respondents free rein to express their opinions on any given topic. Because there are no predefined answers, researchers can gain a wealth of insight through qualitative data, i.e. non-numerical data. Often, they’ll receive surprising answers that they may not have even thought to include on a set of answers – so open-ended questions can be very eye-opening!
Here’s a simple example of an open-ended question:
How are you doing today? _______________________________________________________
What Is a Close-Ended Survey Question?
Close-ended questions lock respondents into choosing from a set of predefined responses. There are many types of closed-ended survey questions, such as multiple-choice questions, ranking survey questions, drop down surveys, and more. Because close-ended questions provide quantitative data, i.e. measurable data, researchers can easily analyze it to come up with conclusions.
Here’s a simple example of a close-ended question:
How are you doing today?
❑ Good ❑ Okay ❑ Bad
Open vs Closed Questions: Pros & Cons
While open-ended questions generally provide rich responses, analyzing qualitative data to reach conclusions can be overwhelming due to the variations in individual responses. It’s also difficult to use open-ended questions as a gauge for the greater population, since each response is unique.
On the other hand, closed-ended questions are easy to analyze because they provide quantitative data. However, researchers need to have a solid understanding of their topic in order to include all potential responses or they may collect inaccurate information. Say, for example, a survey asked, “Do you travel by plane or by car?” With only two options, the survey is ignoring those who travel by boat, bus, bike, or any other means of getting around.
When to Use Open-Ended Survey Questions
Because there are certain advantages to open-ended questions, there are certain times when it’s best to use them! Here’s a look at the four best times to use open-ended questions with a few examples.
1. When surveying a small audience.
Open-ended questions provide unique responses that must be closely looked at to reach any sort of conclusion; if your survey consists of thousands of people, this can be an overwhelming task. Open-ended questions are best left for smaller survey groups, such as an employer with a small team, a classroom of 30 students, or a boutique store with a limited clientele.
2. When surveying experts.
This goes hand-in-hand with smaller audiences. When surveying experts, your audience is bound to be small since it’s a niche topic, making it ideal for open-ended questions. In addition, open-ended questions allow you to gain very specific insight from experts in a particular field. Open-ended questions are more like interview questions, and give the experts the freedom to respond with valuable information you probably could not have gathered with closed-ended questions.
3. When conducting preliminary research.
Prior to conducting a large-scale survey, researchers may reach out to a smaller group in order to formulate their questions and their predefined responses. An open-ended question survey to this smaller group can give researchers the information they need to create a well thought-out, closed-ended question survey intended for a large audience.
4. When concluding a survey.
You may be conducting a large scale survey full of closed-ended questions, but it’s still not a bad idea to leave one open-ended question at the end (such as a “comment box”) to let respondents have their say without a predefined answer. Even if you don’t intend to review or analyze the open-ended survey question, it ends the survey on a good note because respondents feel like they have a voice.
When to Use Closed-Ended Survey Questions
Because there are certain advantages to closed-ended questions, there are certain times when it’s best to use them! Here’s a look at the four best times to use closed-ended questions with a few examples.
1. When surveying busy individuals.
While most people are busy, there are some groups that are notoriously hard to reach due to their schedules, such as those in the medical field. By using closed-ended questions, you show you respect their time because it allows them to get through the survey quicker (you might even consider a microsurvey).
2. When respondents aren’t excited about your topic.
Some topics are bound to be uninteresting to people; therefore, they won’t spend much time with the survey, let alone fill out open-ended questions. If you know you’re sending a survey to a mostly disinterested audience, it’s best to go with closed-ended questions.
3. When you want quantitative data.
As mentioned earlier, closed-ended questions provide measurable, or quantifiable data that is easy to code and analyze. If you need statistics backed by data – and want them quickly – choose closed-ended questions.
4. When you want to categorize respondents.
Let’s say you’re a marketer and want to know who your brand’s typical customer is in order to develop a new campaign. If you use open-ended questions, you may not secure the data you’re looking for. However, if you use closed-ended demographic survey questions (gender, age, race, income, etc.) followed by closed-ended questions about their thoughts on the brand, you’ll be able to easily categorize respondents to understand who the target audience is in order to focus marketing efforts on them.
25 Best Examples of Open-Ended Survey Questions
So, what is an example of an open-ended survey question? Here are some thought-starters for a few of the types of surveys our clients use frequently!
Is expected that you’ll ask a customer to rate your product or service on a scale of some sort. But that only gives you a number. With an open-ended question, you can really gather some insight that could be used to form a new campaign, adjust your strategy, etc. So, ask some of the basics, and then feel free to get creative with your questions!
- What do you like most about this product?
- Was anything disappointing about this product?
- If someone asked you about our product, what would you say to them?
- Which celebrities do you think would use this product?
- If this product was an animal, what kind would it be?
Similar to customer feedback, here you want to get into the consumer perception of your product or service. What do they really think about your brand? So again, get creative.
- Would you buy this brand? Why or why not?
- What words would you use to describe this brand’s personality?
- How do you think people would react if you used/wore this brand?
- What kind of music does this brand listen to?
- Which actors or actresses would play this brand in a movie?
Large companies may have difficulty using open-ended questions unless surveys are distributed to teams or departments. Then, they can be very effective (of course, it’s important to ensure anonymity, or else your responses may be pretty standard).
- What words would you use to describe this company?
- If this company was a car, what kind would it be?
- When people ask you about working here, what do you tell them?
- If you were going to quit, what would be your reasons?
- What are the reasons you come to work every day?
Most teacher surveys can easily incorporate open-ended questions as there are only so many educators per school. When surveying students – similar to employee feedback – a school-wide survey may include too many students to ask open-ended questions. However, if individual teachers survey classrooms, open-ended questions can be eye-openers.
- What could be done to improve the classroom experience?
- How do you feel about your classmates?
- Describe some of your biggest concerns?
- What can this school do to better support you?
- Would you come to school if you did not have to, and why (or why not)?
With people having more choice in their medical care than ever before, medical providers have become more and more focused on the patient and/or customer experience (CX). To improve experience, they’re using surveys to gather feedback. While this is probably not the time to get creative, some open-ended questions to consider include:
- What was the best part of your experience with us?
- List some things we could have done better?
- How did you feel about the nursing staff?
- What did you think about your doctor?
- If you’re thinking about switching providers, why?
For many surveys, it’s not just a matter of “open vs closed questions,” it’s a matter of using them effectively. Oftentimes, the best surveys include a mix of survey format questions to gather different data and to keep the survey-taker on their toes; for example, using a mix of closed-ended survey questions to gather measurable data and ending with open-ended survey questions to fill in the details. When you create your survey with SurveyLegend, all types of question formats are at your fingertips, in beautifully pre-designed templates. Get started creating your survey today!
Do you use open-ended questions on your surveys? If so, what are some of your best open-ended questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Open-ended survey questions do not have predefined answers. Respondents can answer any way they wish, providing insight that may not be gathered from a closed-ended question.
Close-ended questions have a set of predefined answers they respondent must choose from. Closed ended questions generally consist of multiple choice questions, ranking survey questions, drop down surveys, and Likert scale questions.
Any question without a predefined answer is an open-ended question. “How are you doing today” is an example of an open-ended question.
Each survey is different, and many of the best surveys contain several question formats. Even if you don’t intend to analyze open-ended questions, it’s generally good practice to leave an open “Additional comments” section at the end of a survey.