Open and close-ended questions are common types of survey questions in research, which is why most people use them to gather data in a survey or questionnaire. Although open-ended and closed-ended questions look very different, many people still mistake one for the other.
Having a clear understanding of the differences between open-ended questions and close-ended questions helps you to create better surveys and get the most objective responses from your audience. This article explores both types of survey questions and explains when to use them in your research.
A close-ended question is a type of survey question that limits respondents to a fixed set of predetermined responses. In other words, it requires the respondent to choose an answer from the limited answer-options listed in the question; the respondent cannot provide answers outside these options.
Close-ended questions are typically used in quantitative research to gather statistical information from respondents. Also; the number of answer-options in close-ended questions is not fixed; there can be 2 or more listed options depending on the objective of the survey.
An open-ended question is a type of survey question that does not restrict respondents to already-provided answer options. An open-ended question requires the respondent to fully express himself or herself as they provide answers to questions.
Unlike close-ended questions, open-ended questions have a broad focus and allow respondents to provide extensive answers. They also give you better insights into the thoughts, expectations, and experiences of the respondent since they can freely express themselves.
Here are 13 differences between Close and Open-ended Questions
A closed-ended question is a survey question that restricts respondents to limited answer-options while an open-ended question is a survey question that allows respondents to communicate their answers without any restrictions. This means that unlike close-ended questions, open-ended questions allow you to provide free-form answers.
Close-ended questions help you to get specific and straight-to-the-point answers from respondents, unlike open-ended questions where you have to filter the information you need from the responses provided. Close-ended questions provoke simple responses while open-ended questions provoke complex responses.
Examples of open-ended questions include; “how do you think this fits into your work?”, “what do you think about our service delivery?” and “describe how this product meets your needs?”, among others. On the other hand, examples of close-ended questions include:
As seen in the above-listed samples, close-ended questions are precise and quite definite. Open-ended questions, as shown above, are structured in a way that they elicit a variety of responses from survey participants. This means that open-ended questions allow for more flexible responses.
Common types of close-ended questions include dichotomous questions and multiple-choice questions. A dichotomous question contains binary answer-options and is typically structured as yes/no questions or true/false questions while multiple-choice questions provide respondents with multiple answer options that can be structured as checkboxes or radio choices.
On the other hand, common types of open-ended questions include what, where, when, and how questions. These are questions that typically require the respondent to provide more than a single-word answer, and fully describe their thoughts and experiences in line with the assertion or subject matter.
The objective of close-ended questions is to help the researcher collect statistical information that can serve as quantitative data while the purpose of open-ended questions is qualitative data collection. Open-ended questions allow you to gain better insights into the minds of the respondents.
Close-ended questions aim to obtain precise and specific information from respondents on a defined subject matter. Here, you want to eliminate unnecessary information and simply focus on collecting well-tailored information that is useful to the specific research context or the assertion that is being considered.
Unlike close-ended questions, listing open-ended questions in your survey allows you to gather a variety of data from respondents. In other words, it allows for an infinite number of possible answers which lends further credibility to your research findings in the end.
Another huge advantage of open-ended questions over close-ended questions is that they allow you to collect more data from respondents. Unlike close-ended questions, open-ended questions are crafted to provide respondents with ample opportunity to express themselves fully and provide clarity on responses.
Unlike open-ended questions, close-ended questions are quick and easy to answer and this helps you to save time; especially when it comes to large-scale data collection. This means that you can gather data swiftly using close-ended questions while open-ended questions can create a time-lag during data collection.
Another advantage of close-ended questions over open-ended questions is that close-ended questions result in data that is easy to process and analyze. Since close-ended questions gather statistical information, it is easy for you to code and analyze these pieces of information.
Open-ended questions are used when you want to collect qualitative data while close-ended questions can be to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Open-ended questions allow you to gather free-end information about the research subject matter while close-ended questions allow you to gather numerical information for statistical analysis of the research context.
Close-ended questions are used when you want to collect precise and specific information from respondents. Close-ended questions are important in quantitative research because they help you to collect numerical data from respondents.
Close-ended questions collect quantitative data while open-ended questions collect qualitative data. Quantitative data refers to data whose value is measured in the form of numbers or counts, with a unique numerical value associated with each data set while qualitative data is the type of data that describes the information.
Observation, interviews, and focus groups are common data collection methods for open-ended questions. On the other hand, close-ended questions are asked via quantitative data collection methods like surveys and questionnaires.
These qualitative data collection methods used for open-ended questions create a context that allows respondents to fully communicate their ideas and thoughts with the researcher. In the same vein, quantitative research methods like surveys and questionnaires used for close-ended questions help you to gather precise responses at the right time.
It takes a longer period for respondents to provide answers to open-ended questions. This is because open-ended questions require the respondents to provide detailed accounts of their thoughts, expectations, and experiences as is relevant to the research context.
On the other hand, close-ended questions can be completed in a shorter time frame because they are brief and straight to the point. Also, answer options are already provided in close-ended questions. So, all the respondent needs to do is choose an option that best reflects his or her position.
Data collected via open-ended questions are usually reported as an individual or grouped verbal responses while the data provided from responses to close-ended questions are typically reported as statistical information. This is because close-ended questions result in data that is quantifiable unlike what is obtainable in open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions in your survey or questionnaire can result in gathering a lot of irrelevant information. This is because open-ended questions are not designed to streamline responses. Instead, they allow respondents to provide as much information as they want to in response to a question.
Close-ended questions, on the other hand, allow you to collect precise and streamlined information from respondents. Close-ended questions provide a set of limited answer options that are already streamlined to suit the research contexts and needs of the systematic investigation.
Interviews and focus groups are common contexts for open-ended questions while high volume mobile surveys are common contexts for close-ended questions. This is because interviews and focus groups often require qualitative responses unlike high volume mobile surveys that require precise and specific responses.
In your Formplus surveys, you can include open-ended questions and close-ended to help you gather data from respondents in the best way. As a survey tool, Formplus has different features and form fields that make it easy for you to ask close and open-ended questions in your survey.
Here’s how to create open and close-ended questions using Formplus.
Close and open-ended questions are important in research as they help you to gather quantitative and qualitative data from respondents. Both question types apply to specific contexts that rarely overlap – close-ended questions restrict respondents to limited options while open-ended questions allow respondents to provide as much information as they want.
As a researcher, you need to know what close-ended and open-ended questions are plus how you can use each of these in your research. Getting familiar with different types of survey questions; especially knowing their strengths and weaknesses, helps you to create more effective surveys.
You may also like:
Ultimate guide to understanding open ended questions, examples, advantages and questionnaire examples in surveys & research
This article outlines 25 great NPS survey questions to help you gather feedback from your customers
Ultimate guide to understanding close ended questions, examples, advantages and questionnaire examples in surveys
Everything you need to know about job evaluation. Importance, types, methods and question examples