Open-ended Questions in Research

Open-ended questions in research are completely opposite of the close-ended questions. They are commonly used in socials sciences, behavioral science, sociology and psychology research. There are many reasons for using them in research. There are some topics that need elaborate answers. There are also some questions that cannot be answered in yes, no, maybe, or maybe not type of responses.  There are also questions that the researcher does not know much about and need the help of the respondents to understand them fully. There use is also very common and useful in feasibility studies where the aim is to yield data.

Open-ended questions in research

What is an open-ended question

An open-ended question provides the respondents with an open choice to respond in a manner that best describe the answer to the question. There are no multiple choices for the answer and the aim is to get in-depth responses from the respondents. The researcher learns about many unexpected things from using open-ended questions in his research. The data obtained from open-ended questions is rich and provides insight for further studies.

Why open-ended questions

  1. It helps respondents read the questionnaire carefully and answer accurately
  2. It helps respondents reflect what they feel about the topic it gives them the freedom to express.
  3. It also gives them ease of explaining how much they know about the topic or how much they do not know.
  4. It may yield unique responses that are otherwise impossible with a close-ended questionnaire.

When open-ended questions are not appropriate

  1. An audience that is not literate cannot provide answers easily in an open-ended questionnaire.
  2. An audience that is reluctant to express their feelings about a topic especially when the topic is of sensitive nature. They will avoid answering the questionnaire if the questions seem irritating and offensive to them.
  3. An audience that cannot spare time to answer in detail.
  4. When the researcher has less experience to analyze and interpret the answers.

When open-ended questions are appropriate

There are many occasions when the researcher feels the need to have open-ended questions for their survey.

  1. When the researcher wants to have in-depth responses from the respondents.
  2. When the researcher knows less about the subject and wants to get more help from the respondents.
  3. When the respondents are literate enough about the subject and can describe in detail what they know about it. On the other hand, when the respondents are not educated close-ended questions are a better option.
  4. When the researcher has enough experience and expertise to analyze and evaluate open-ended questions. It is far easier to analyze close-0ended questions because of lesser complexity and details.
  5. When the respondents are willing to cooperate in providing detailed answers.

Though open-ended questions are great for research they are difficult to formulate, analyze and interpret. The question statement for open-ended questions should be free of bias. There should be a neutral tone and any leading questions should be avoided. Sometimes students develop question statements that have double-meaning and such questions can yield base in the answers. The statement should be developed keeping in mind the educational level and the IQ of the respondents. Your questions should also not give directions to the respondents, for example, rather than asking “do you agree with the new proposals about child health reform”, you should ask “what do you think about the proposals suggested by the committee about the child health reforms”. The first statement would be too directional and leading for the re4pondent to be answered in “yes” or “no”, on the other hand, the other statement is neutral and asks the respondents to respond their own thoughts.


  • Are Open-Ended Questions Qualitative Research?,
  • Edited by: Lavrakas, J. P., Open-ended Question, published in Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods, s, Published on Jan 1, 2011



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