Quantitative Research Questions – Open Ended vs. Closed Ended Questions


Once you have finalised your research objectives and decided that you need to do a quantitative study to collect the information you require.  You are ready to write your questions and construct your questionnaire.

There are two types of survey questions typically used in a quantitative research, closed questions and open-ended questions.    Closed ended questions are the ones where you have several response options to choose between, while open-ended questions is where you ask respondents to use their own words to explain their thoughts or feelings.   Open ended questions are commonly used in qualitative research; however they can also be used in quantitative research to get more information and insight into an issue.

This post will outline both closed and open-ended questions and tell you when each should be used.

 Closed Questions

There are several types of closed questions, single choice, multi choice and ranking questions.

 Single choice questions – Are when you ask respondents to choose one answer from a list of alternatives, that that best describes how they feel about a certain topic.   An example of a single choice question would be:

Which of the following best describes how appealing or unappealing you find product X?

Very Appealing
Fairly Appealing
Neither Appealing nor Unappealing
Fairly Unappealing
Very Unappealing

Multichoice questions – Is when you ask respondents to pick a number of responses from a pre constructed list.  The following is an example of a multi choice question;

Which of the following features do you think Product X should include?  Choose all that apply

Feature A
Feature B
Feature C
Feature D
Feature E

Ranking Questions – Are used when you want to directly compare objects or product features, to work out the relative importance of each.  For example, using the question, above if you couldn’t include all the features above in your product and you wanted to respondents to choose one or two that were most important, you could do the following:

Please rank the following product features from most important to least important

Please choose one for each product feature.


Most important 2nd  most important 3rd most important 4th most important Least important
Feature A
Feature B
Feature C
Feature D
Feature E

Closed questions allow for quick responses that are easily analysed, and they are far easier for respondents to answer, however, there are several disadvantages to closed questions.   A closed question assumes you know all the answers and you are just asking respondents to pick one.  There is no opportunity to gain insight into why the respondent has answered in the way they have.

 Open Ended Questions

An open ended question gives the respondent an opportunity to provide a range of answers that the researcher may not have considered.  Obviously these are key to qualitative interviewing, but they can also be used in quantitative research to give more depth and insight

For example, thinking back to the appeal question, Which of the following best describes how appealing you would find product X?

 You may want to ask respondents who think product X is appealing.  Why do you think product X is appealing?

Or if they did not find it appealing….

Why do you think product X is unappealing?

Open ended questions can be very time consuming and complicated to analyse.  You need to read all or most of them to get an idea of themes that may be coming through.  If you want to quantify them, they will need coding which requires someone to read them all and put them into sub headings, and then count the number of times each idea is mentioned.  Nowadays, most people don’t bother with coding open end responses instead they just skim them for general themes to enrich quantitative responses, and maybe use one or two direct quotes which sum up the main ideas.

 Open or Closed Ended Questions?

In quantitative research it is ideal to use a mixture of both question types.  To get useable data quickly that is easy to analyse, most of your questions should be closed with just one or two open ended questions to give further depth and insight.

Referring back to the first example when we asked respondents to say how appealing they found Product X, closed questions will give you an idea of whether most people find your products appealing or not, and the open ended response will tell you what it is that is appealing or unappealing about your product.

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