Crafting Your Survey Questions: Open-Ended Versus Closed-EndedCrafting Your Survey Questions: Open-Ended Versus Closed-Ended

Surveying your audience gives you valuable access to their thoughts and perceptions about your business. A fine-tuned questionnaire can provide insight into your customers' satisfaction level, the effectiveness of your training courses, and the reasons would-be buyers abandon your online shopping cart. Surveys can be used to research your market prior to launching a new product or service. They can yield important information regarding whether your employees are happy with their jobs. In short, they can provide data that helps you to make key decisions for your company.

The challenge is to design a survey that includes effective questions. The wrong approach will not only yield poor data, but will also waste valuable time and effort in its execution. In this article, we'll explain the advantages and drawbacks of using open-ended and closed-ended questions in your surveys. We'll also describe the most common approaches to closed-ended questions.

Pros And Cons To Using Both Question Types

To quickly define both, open-ended questions are those for which there are countless responses, and respondents are encouraged to answer in their own words. An example would be, "Why are you qualified for this job?" By contrast, a closed-ended question limits the responses that may be chosen by the respondent. An example would be, "What is your age range?" followed by a set of possible responses.

The advantage to using open-ended questions is that the responses often provide unique insight. The drawback is that the answers are incredibly difficult to analyze. They do not fit easily into a statistical analysis model.

The advantage to using closed-ended questions is that responses can be easily catalogued and analyzed. The data can be collected and filtered through a statistical analysis program with very little manual effort. The drawback is that creating them is more difficult. The researcher must provide a limited group of choices that capture the majority of possible responses. For example, consider the question, "What is your favorite color?" There are hundreds of possible responses; they span a range that cannot realistically fit within the limited space of a survey.

5 Approaches To Closed-Ended Questions

All closed-ended questions can be categorized into five distinct styles: multiple choice, Likert scale, numerical, ordinal, and categorical. Each style serves a specific purpose. Ideally, your survey will include all of them. Here is a brief description of each type and an example that clarifies their use:

1 - Multiple Choice

This question style is appropriate when you want participants to pick the most relevant response. For example:

"Why did you choose not to buy product A?" (select one):

1) Too expensive
2) Do not need
3) Poor quality
4) No money-back guarantee
5) Other (please explain):

2 - Likert Scale

This question type is appropriate when you would like to identify how participants feel about a particular topic. For example:

"How important is it that grade-school children receive vaccinations?" (select one):

1) Not important
5) Extremely important

3 - Numerical

Numerical questions are best used when the possible responses must be in numeric form. For example:

"What is your age range?"

1) 18-25
2) 26-35
3) 36-45
4) 46-55
5) Over 55

4 - Ordinal

Ordinal questions are appropriate when you want participants to rank a series of responses. For example:

"Rank the factors below according to their importance to you when choosing a dentist. Place 1 by the most important factor and 5 by the least important."

a. Prices of services
b. Appointment wait time
c. Staff professionalism
d. Location
e. Experience

5 - Categorical

This question type is appropriate when you would like participants to place themselves into a specific category. Participants can only belong to a single category. For example:

"What is your gender?"

1. Male
2. Female

As noted, extensive surveys should include questions from each of the five closed-ended styles described above. Smaller survey projects should include at least one or two of them. You'll find that using these types of questions on your surveys will yield data that is more useful and actionable.
by Franklin Lucer
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SurveyGizmo is a leading provider of satisfaction surveys, for more great ways to use surveys to enhance your business check them out online at
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