How to Use Open-Ended Questions in Surveys

August 21, 2023
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Open-ended questions in surveys can offer insights that go beyond mere statistics. They encourage respondents to share detailed opinions, providing a deeper understanding of their thoughts and feelings.

In this post, we’ll talk about the art of effectively using open-ended questions so that they yield valuable qualitative data. By mastering open-ended questions, you'll open yourself up to a treasure trove of meaningful insights!

What are open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions are questions that prompt you to provide detailed responses and encourage you to express thoughts, opinions, or experiences in your own words. They often start with phrases like “why” or “how,” inviting deeper perspectives.

Difference between open and closed-ended questions

Open-ended questions, like short answer and paragraph questions, offer a way to collect unrestricted answers. On the other hand, closed-ended questions, like linear scale or multiple choice grid formats, provide predefined options for you to choose from, limiting your response to an established list.

Open-ended questions capture nuanced information and qualities, while closed-ended questions offer measurable, numerical data for comparative analysis.

Advantages of open-ended questions

Here are a few advantages that open-ended questions offer:

  • Rich insights: Open-ended questions provide detailed and personalized responses, offering a deeper understanding of data.
  • Diverse perspectives: Respondents can express their viewpoints in their own words, allowing for a wide range of opinions and experiences.
  • Candid responses: Participants feel less constrained, leading to more honest and authentic answers.
  • Nuanced analysis: Qualitative data reveals complexities that quantitative data might miss.
  • Hypothesis generation: Findings from open-ended questions can inspire new research directions or hypotheses for future studies.
  • Flexible and adaptable: Researchers can adjust their approach based on initial open-ended responses, refining future questions or surveys.

Disadvantages of open-ended questions

While open-ended questions offer valuable insights, they also come with certain drawbacks:

  • Time-consuming: Respondents need more time to give detailed answers.
  • Subjectivity: Analyzing open-ended responses requires interpretation, making it more challenging to maintain objectivity.
  • Data complexity: Qualitative data can be intricate and requires meticulous coding and categorization for meaningful analysis.
  • Response variability: Participants' writing skills and willingness to elaborate may vary, affecting the depth and consistency of collected data.
  • Difficulty to compare: Unlike closed-ended questions, open-ended responses can be more difficult to compare directly.
  • Potential bias: Researcher bias might inadvertently influence the coding or interpretation of open-ended responses.

Types of open-ended questions

Surveys can use a few different types of open-ended questions. While the essence of these questions remains the same, they’re phrased differently to stimulate the respondent’s thought process—phrasing is key, since there’ll be no other way to guide responses.

Some types of open-ended questions are:

  • Descriptive questions: These ask you to describe something in detail. For example, "Can you tell me about your favorite thing about this product?"
  • Opinion questions: They want to know your personal opinion. For instance, "What's your view on the current education system?"
  • Scenario-based questions: These ask you to imagine a situation and share your thoughts. Such as, "What would you do if you won a surprise gift of $1,000?"
  • Comparison questions: They prompt you to compare two things. Like, "What are the differences and similarities between products 1 and 2?"
  • Hypothetical questions: These ask you to consider a hypothetical situation. Such as, "If you were made the VP of sales, how would you solve the problem of deteriorating sales figures in your company?"
  • Change or improvement questions: They want to know how you would change or improve something. Like, "How can we make our customer service even better?"

How to use open-ended questions in a survey

Now that you know all about open-ended questions, let’s talk briefly about using them in your survey effectively. We’ll use Google Forms to explain, as it’s the preferred data collection tool for many.

Use a written question format

After entering your question in the question field of your Google Form, click the question format button.

Select one of the two written question formats, depending on how long you want the response to be.

Google Forms provides many other question formats, and most comprehensive surveys require open and closed-ended questions to work in tandem. Learn more about how to add linear scale and multiple-choice grid questions in Google Forms.

Ask respondents to explain their answers

Let your next question encourage a deeper analysis or exploration of the topic. Prompt the respondent to elaborate on their previous response. This will help shed light on the reasoning behind their answers.

For example, if your initial question was “What do you think of [blank],” the next may be “Why do you think so?” This added context enhances the value of your open-ended questions.

Open-ended survey questions analysis

Open-ended survey question analysis involves a meticulous examination of participants' unfiltered responses. Researchers have to categorize, code, and identify patterns within the qualitative data. This requires a sophisticated response storing and analyzing system.

While Google Forms does store responses, it can pretty difficult to parse through open-ended questions, especially if there are many of them. Google Forms add-ons like Form Publisher can make this more efficient.

Form Publisher generates individual documents out of each response and stores them in your Google Drive per your preference. With Form Publisher, you can also share these documents automatically with your survey team for collaborative analysis of the survey data.

Organize open-ended responses with Form Publisher

That’s it! Now you know all about open-ended survey questions and how to use them. Open-ended questions are the backbone of good surveys, so try creating your own and seeing how to improve on them over time.If you’re using Google Forms for your data collection, Form Publisher is an easy-to-use add-on that can supercharge your data analysis and response storing process, especially for narrative responses. Try out Form Publisher today!

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