Question Type #1: Open Ended Questions

Now that you have a general understanding of five types of survey questions, it's time to delve a bit deeper into the type you've selected. Let's begin with open ended questions.

Open ended questions are very useful when trying to fully understand the attitude of the respondent. For example, when creating a survey to understand consumer's behavior, it may be essential to the market researcher to understand how your target audience (or survey population) begins each day. Look at the two questions below:

Closed question:

Please select all of the activities you do to get ready for your day:

- Take a shower
- Brush your teeth
- Make coffee
- Eat breakfast
- Check email
- Read the newspaper

Open ended question:

Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your typical morning routine.

The closed question does not allow for in-depth analysis because 1) it’s not an ordered list; and 2) the list of options is not exhaustive. The open ended question, on the other, would provide more useful data for a company trying to understand how its consumers get ready and where their product can fit into that routine.  Perhaps the respondent has children, so getting ready for their day includes getting the children ready—that piece of information could be critical to the market research study.

Keep in mind that open ended questions do have a major drawback: the analysis. At the conclusion of a survey, the surveyor must code all the responses based on a set of criteria created for the particular answer. The coding is already built in to closed questions, as all the possible responses are known at the time of survey creation. This is not the case for open ended questions.

One more drawback to consider is that open ended questions may add to survey bias. This is because open ended questions are the most commonly skipped survey question.

When designing your survey, be sure to carefully evaluate open ended questions and how, if at all, they can better gather data than a closed question. You’ll make for a better respondent experience and gain more useful information.

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