Open Questions: The Complete Guide

Answering an open question in a questionnaire

When you create a survey or perform other forms of market research, the questions you ask are of the utmost importance. Open and closed questions can impact the quality of your research, so it's essential you understand when to ask open-ended questions and how to use them to get the best data.

In this guide, we'll discuss the importance of open-ended questions and show you some great examples. First, let's discuss what an open question is.

What Are Open-Ended Questions?

Open-ended questions are questions that require a participant to answer in their own words. They can provide researchers with more information than a simple yes or no answer. Companies must get feedback from their customers, and asking open questions is ideal for these purposes.

You can think of these types of questions as ideal for qualitative research, and they're very different from close-ended questions.

The Difference Between Open and Closed Questions

Both open and closed questions are useful for researchers, but it's essential to know which ones you should use. In a lot of studies, there is a combination of both types so researchers can gain comprehensive insights into the thoughts, behaviours and demographics of their participants.

Closed questions often require a simple answer, such as "yes" or "no". But they can also be in a multiple-choice format or include numbers for quantitative research. Let's look at some examples of closed questions.

Closed question example one: the Yes or No

Q: Do you visit salons for beauty treatments?


Closed question example two: the Multiple Choice

Q: Which of these car manufacturers are you familiar with?


Q: What is your age range?


Open questions enable participants to add their thoughts and opinions instead of choosing from a list of answers. It's important to note that closed questions are ideal for surveys, and they can make it easier to gather results and analyse data. But, they can't give you the in-depth answers you might require at times.

Imagine you're conducting research into your customer satisfaction and want to know how happy or otherwise your existing clients are. Asking them if they are happy with your service could lead to a simple yes or no answer. It's not going to benefit your business, because if you don't know why they like or don't like the service they receive, you won't be able to defend the positives or change and improve areas that need attention.

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

Asking the right question is central to gaining the most in-depth insights about your products, services or competitors. If you don't word your questions correctly, it's challenging to make sure your participants will provide detailed answers.

Here are some examples of open questions:

  • "In what ways has the COVID Pandemic impacted your business?"
  • "Where would you like your career to be in five years?"
  • "What is your favourite website provider, and why?"

While these are random questions, you can also use open-ended questions to make up a complete survey about a specific topic. For example, if a company was performing market research about pet food, they could ask:

  • "Which brand of pet food do you usually buy and why?"
  • "What do you look for when you purchase pet food?"
  • "Are there any drawbacks to the current pet food you are buying?"
  • "What would you like your pet to gain from their food?"

As you can see, these questions would enable the company to perform a competitive analysis and ensure they have the best opportunities to create a brand of pet food that consumers want to purchase.

The Benefits of Open Questions

We've already talked about how open-ended questions can benefit companies, but there are some other advantages we feel we should mention.

  1. Participants Respond Better:
    Closed questions can make participants feel a bit on edge because they have limited options to answer. It's a lot better to allow people to voice their opinion because you'll gain a deeper understanding of how they think and feel.
  2. More Connectivity:
    Not only will people be more willing to answer your questionnaire, they'll also take their time to think about the questions instead of just ticking boxes.
  3. Surprising Results:
    Your audience might shock you with some of their responses, and it can open a lot of doors for you. If you ask someone how you could improve your company, they might add an answer that means you can fill a vital gap in the market.

When and How to Ask Open Questions

There's nothing wrong with asking closed-questions, especially if you're not looking for detailed answers. We ask closed questions in our everyday lives because we don't want an explanation all the time.

For example, asking a friend if they're ok requires a simple yes or no answer. But if you wanted to know what was wrong with them, you'd change the wording to something like "so, tell me what's going on with you?"

Open-ended questions require people to pause, think about their answer and provide detail. They're perfect for gaining deeper insights into how they feel, as long as you when and how to ask them.

When to Ask

Examples of when to ask questions include:

Questionnaires - If you want to see the scope your product/service might have, you can ask open-ended questions to find out. For example "What's your favourite brand of beer and why?"

Research - When you're testing a new product concept or upgrading your current service, you can ask people their views on what makes a product stand out to them.

To create closed-question studies - Using open-ended questions as part of your initial screening process can help you determine the set of questions and responses you need for a quantitative research study.

When you need to gain deeper insights than a simple one-word answer, you should use open questions.

How to Ask

Language is everything, so it's important to include the following words when you ask open questions:

  • How
  • Why
  • What
  • Explain
  • Describe

It's up to you how you ask a question, but try to include words and language that lets people know you want to hear their opinions and thoughts.

The Bottom Line

Now you know more about the importance of open-ended questions, and you can use them to improve your business or enhance your surveys. Gaining the right insights into your audience or your competitors' audiences can help you to improve your customer service, products, how you manage your team and much more.

Asking questions is only one part of the surveying process. If you'd like to learn about determining and defining your participants, check-out our free guide on how to calculate sample size.

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