Online surveys: open and closed questions

Survey questions can be open-ended and closed-ended. Each option has some positive and negative characteristics. It is always a good idea to know their use cases and when to use them in online surveys.

Closed-ended questions

In closed-ended questions there are a number of options and users must choose one of them. These questions do not allow the user to give a unique or unexpected answer. Some examples are dichotomies (yes or no answers), multiple answers (a, b, c, d, e), checkboxes, drop-down menus or ratings within a scale of values.

A specific example of a close-ended question is: do you go to work on public transport, on foot or driving your own vehicle?

Open-ended questions

These are questions that are not answered with simple yes or no options. They require thought and usually a unique answer. Some examples are unstructured questions, concept association questions or questions about a given scenario or situation.

A specific example of open-ended question are: how do you go to work?

Characteristics of closed-ended questions

The strengths of the closed questions are:

  • Demographic studies: They are very useful in determining the demographic profile of the interviewee.
  • Measuring KPIs: It is easier to quantify responses.

The weaknesses of closed questions are:

  • In-depth understanding of a topic or situation: with closed-ended questions you only have a superficial understanding of what you are asking about.
  • Vague answer: users can give you a large number of vague answers that do not help you to find out interesting information.
  • Don’t fit into a conversation: closed-ended questions discourage a possible debate with the user and valuable information can be lost.
  • You will need multiple questions to go deeper into a topic or situation: if you want to go deeper into a topic, interviewers will have to ask several questions in order to obtain quality information. This will result in longer questionnaires and lead to a lower rate of completed surveys.

Characteristics of open-ended questions

The strengths of the open questions are:

  • Richer findings: these questions allow researchers to access participants’ true feelings and thoughts on a topic.
  • They cut out errors in answers or automatic responses: if people have answered freely, it is easier for them to remember their answers throughout the survey.
  • They reveal unexpected findings: they facilitate an unlimited number of responses.

The weaknesses of open questions are:

  • Difficulty in analyzing findings from unstructured data: it is more difficult to draw clear findings from open-ended questions than from closed-ended questions. In this case you have to find a way to structure the data, which is already done with the closed-ended ones.
  • Increased number of unanswered questions: with open-ended questions, there is a greater chance that they will not be answered for whatever reason.
  • Vague and general answers: an open-ended question may confuse the user, so they may choose to respond in a vague and general way to what we have asked them, without really getting into the important subject

Here at the Estudio, we encourage you to learn more about the best uses of closed and open-ended questions for your online surveys. We believe that online surveys are one of the best options to collect direct information and real feedback from your users. This information makes it easier to prioritize tasks, redesign or know which parts of your digital product need to be improved in the next phase.

This article is a translation of the following one published on our corporate website:

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