Questionnaire Design — Open-ended and Close-ended Questions

Questionnaires typically comprise mainly close-ended questions and some open-ended ones. Open-ended questions tend to be of the type — “Do you have any suggestions on how to improve our service?” They solicit additional information from the respondent and allow respondents greater freedom to express themselves. They often yield useful insights that help diagnose issues and interpret responses to close-ended questions e.g. — “Please share the reasons why you stopped using brand A.” Open-ended questions may also yield quotable comments (verbatim) that enrich the research findings.

Note however that the exploratory nature of open-ended questions makes them amenable more to qual than quant. Unlike closed-ended questions which offer predetermined lists or categories of possible answers, open-ended questions are not as easy to manage in quant. They are harder to record, code, process, analyse and report, and consequently add to the expense of the study. For these reasons they should be used sparingly in quant studies.

Close-ended questions provide a set of answers from which the respondent must choose. Examples include dichotomous closed questions (For instance Yes/No — Did you drink tea today?), or multiple choice questions. These questions are apt for quant where we aim to close rather than expand the focus of inquiry. Responses are comparable across respondents, and they are quicker, easier and cheaper to administer in field, and process in the office.

Close-ended questions are, however, rigid and may restrict some respondents to a list that does not apply to them. It also prevents them from expressing their complete feelings and experiences, which is why a few open-ended questions provide for good balance.

A good understanding of the subject is required to develop good questions and pre-code lists. Where there is lack of familiarity, exploratory qual study may be carried out prior to quant, to determine the right questions and the anticipated responses. It also helps to pick up the terminology consumers commonly used for terms pertaining to the category.

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