writing open-ended questions

December 11, 2007 at 7:23 am 7 comments

Having previously written about best practices for using likert scale questions in surveys, I’d like to say something in favour of using open-ended questions. An open-ended question allows respondents to answer a question in their own words. In web surveys, this involves having a text field/box where respondents can write in their answer to a question posed.

Open-ended questions have the advantage over close-ended questions (that use pre-defined answers, such as “good”, “excellent”, etc.) in that they provide an insight into the “how” and “why” aspects of an issue. Close-ended questions typically answer the “how much/many” and “when” aspects.

In my opinion, a survey should contain at least one open-ended question. Imagine if you are asking people about a product and they have to rate it on a satisfaction scale. It would be very interesting to go behind the numbers and ask them “describe for me the two major advantages of using this product”. Matched to your satisfaction scale (take particular note of what the very satisfied and very unsatisfied customers are answering), this information is highly valuable.

I also advocate finishng a survey with an open-ended question, such as “This survey has been about your experience with XYZ product. Do you have anything else you would like to say?”.

You would be surprised at the number of people that do have something to say! I am always told that people don’t like to give feedback; they are fed-up with answering surveys. But my experience has shown that if you really are interested in an issue / product / service / company, you will give a feedback – open-ended questions are perfect for that.

Of course, the downside is how do you analyse the answers you get? How can you draw useful actionable points from the answers? That’s another story that I’ll cover in my next post…

In the meantime, here is a good summary of best practices for open-ended questions>>

Glenn

Entry filed under: Evaluation tools (surveys, interviews..).

The ultimate user test? Analyzing open-ended questions

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Larcik-nd  |  January 25, 2008 at 8:10 am

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  • […] my own Ten tips for better web surveys (pdf), Seven tips for better email invitations for surveys, Writing open ended questions and Analyzing open ended […]

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  • […] 18, 2007 In an earlier post, I wrote about the advantages of using open-ended questions in surveys. The challenge is once you […]

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  • 6. zohour  |  February 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Thank you Glenn your comments have been of enormous help but i have a question : my questionnaire contains oepen ended questions and to keep the focus of one of them i proposed 3 answers whre respondants had to rank ? can this be done ?

    Reply
    • 7. Glenn  |  March 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      hello
      This can be done, but it means simply turning your qualitative question into a quantitative question. As you are asking people to select pre-selected responses. So once they respond, you can make a simple analysis and match their answers to your responses and you will have your ranking.
      Glenn

      Reply

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