Close-ended vs. Open-ended Questions: Everything You Need to Know

Questions are a powerful tool for gathering information and helping people to think more deeply.

But not all questions are created equal: some are designed to encourage open-ended answers, while others lead the respondent down a predetermined path.

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between close-ended and open-ended questions – what they are, when you should use them, and how to craft effective ones that get results.

We’ll also explore why it’s important to understand these distinctions in order to ensure that your survey or interview can generate meaningful insights into whatever topic you’re exploring. So let’s dive right in!

Understanding Closed-ended Questions

Closed-ended questions are those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” a limited range of responses, or by selecting from a predetermined list of options.

These are useful for gathering facts about individuals and their opinions because they make it easier to compare responses across different groups. They also help to limit the scope of conversations and keep people focused on the task at hand.

Examples of Closed-ended Questions

• Do you like chocolate?

• Are you a Democrat or Republican?

• On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your job?

Benefits of Using Closed-ended Questions

Quicker Response Times

Closed-ended questions are generally quicker to answer than open-ended ones. When you have a large number of respondents, they can complete surveys faster and provide more data in less time.

Easier Data Analysis

Since closed-ended questions usually have a predetermined set of answers, it’s easier to categorize the results and interpret the data. Easy categorization is especially useful if you’re conducting market research or other surveys that require quantitative analysis.

Reduced Bias

Closed-ended questions can reduce bias because they provide respondents with clear choices and don’t allow for wiggle room to express opinions or feelings about a topic.

Reduced bias makes them ideal for situations where you need accurate, unbiased results.

Drawbacks of Using Closed-ended Questions

Limited Scope

Closed-ended questions limit the scope of conversations and don’t allow for in-depth exploration of a topic.

They can also restrict respondents to answering within a certain range, which may not provide an accurate picture of their opinions or experiences.

Lack of Insight

Since closed-ended questions usually require binary answers, they don’t provide much insight into why people feel the way they do.

Lack of insight means that you may have a hard time understanding the motivations and underlying emotions behind their responses.

Best Time to Use Close-ended Questions

Closed-ended questions are best used in situations where you need to quickly gather factual information or compare responses across different groups.

They’re also useful for when you want to limit the scope of conversations and reduce bias from respondents. Examples include:

• Market research surveys

• Customer satisfaction surveys

• Opinion polls

• Pre-screening questions for job interviews.

Close-ended questions can also be useful in these situations:

1. When Quantity Is the Priority

Closed-ended questions are often used in surveys and polls that prioritize quantity over quality.

For example, if you’re trying to learn more about the general public’s opinion on a particular issue, closed-ended questions can help you quickly and easily collect data.

2. When You Have Limited Time

Closed-ended questions are also useful when you have limited time to collect data.

For example, if you’re conducting a survey at an event or in a public space, it may be more effective to use closed-ended questions so that you can gather as much data as possible in the shortest amount of time.

3. When You Need to Compare Data

Closed-ended questions are also helpful when you need to compare responses across different groups.

For example, if you’re conducting a survey to compare people’s opinions on an issue, closed-ended questions can help you quickly and easily find patterns and trends in the data.

4. When You Need to Reduce Bias

Lastly, closed-ended questions can be helpful when you need to reduce bias. Since they provide respondents with a predetermined set of answers, it’s easier to categorize results and interpret the data without any potential for bias.

Reducing bias can be especially useful when conducting market research or other surveys that require quantitative analysis.

computer screen with survey on it. (survey on computers, industries)

Understanding Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions are those that require more than a simple yes or no answer.

Instead, they are designed to elicit deeper thoughts and feelings from the respondent and offer a greater degree of flexibility in terms of possible responses.

This type of question is best used when you want to gain insights into someone’s personal experiences, motivations, or values.

Examples of Open-ended Questions

• What do you like most about your job?

• How has this experience affected the way you think about life?

• What would you change about your work environment if you could?

Benefits of Open-ended Questions

More Insightful Responses

Open-ended questions allow for more in-depth exploration of a topic and can provide valuable insights into respondents’ thoughts, feelings, and motivations. They also encourage individuals to express themselves more freely, which can lead to richer conversations.

Greater Flexibility

Open-ended questions are less restrictive than closed-ended ones, which allows respondents to answer in their own words and explore topics from different angles.

More flexibility makes them ideal for gaining a better understanding of complex issues or situations that require more nuance.

More Dynamic Data

Since open-ended questions can generate a wider range of responses, you’ll end up with more dynamic data that’s less likely to be influenced by predetermined answers.

Dynamic data can lead to a better understanding of the underlying attitudes and opinions of your respondents.

Drawbacks of Open-ended Questions


Open-ended questions require more effort from both the respondent and researcher, as they take longer to answer and take more time to analyze.

This means that if you are conducting research with a large number of respondents, the process may take longer than expected.


Since open-ended questions can be interpreted in different ways, there is more room for subjective responses.

Subjectivity makes it harder to draw accurate conclusions from the data, as individual interpretations may vary depending on the respondent’s personal experiences or worldview.

Best Time to Use Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions are best used in situations where you want to gain deeper insights into a topic and explore it from different angles. Examples include:

• Focus groups

• Interviews

• Qualitative research surveys

• Narrative inquiry

Open-ended questions can also be useful in these situations:

1. Quality Is More Important Than Quantity

Rather than providing a large quantity of data, open-ended questions allow you to generate more meaningful and insightful information.

Quality data can be useful when you’re conducting research for a specific issue or topic and need to gain more in-depth understanding of the subject.

2. Specific Data Is Necessary

Open-ended questions are ideal for gathering more precise data, such as when you need to analyze customer feedback or opinions on a particular product or service.

Open-ended questions allow respondents to express their thoughts and feelings more freely, which can be helpful for gaining insights into a certain issue or topic.

3. Subjective Opinions Are Important

If you need to understand people’s attitudes, beliefs, or motivations, open-ended questions can be very useful.

They allow individuals to provide more subjective responses and explore a topic from different angles, which can be helpful for gaining a better understanding of the underlying opinions and feelings of your respondents.

picture of paper survey. open-ended questions post

Tips for Writing Effective Survey Questions

We wrote a complete guide on how to write survey questions, but we’re breaking down a few of those tips for you here.

1. Be Clear and Concise

When writing your survey questions, it’s important to make sure they are clear and concise.

Clearness will help ensure that respondents understand what you’re asking them and that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the length or complexity of the question.

2. Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions can influence the respondent’s answer and skew your results, so it’s important to avoid them.

Make sure your questions are neutral and don’t contain any language that suggests a particular answer or opinion.

3. Don’t Ask Too Many Questions

When constructing your survey, it’s important to make sure you don’t ask too many open-ended questions. Asking too many questions can be overwhelming for respondents and lead to a decrease in response rates.

Try to limit your open-ended questions to the ones that will provide the most valuable insights for your research.

4. Avoid Double-Barreled Questions

Double-barreled questions ask two unrelated topics in a single question, which can confuse respondents and lead to inaccurate results.

Make sure to avoid these types of questions and focus on writing clear, focused survey questions that address a single topic.

5. Provide Enough Room for Answers

Open-ended questions require more detailed answers than closed-ended questions, so it’s important to provide enough room for respondents to answer.

This will help ensure that they don’t feel rushed or restricted and can provide the most insightful responses possible.

If it’s a traditional paper survey, that can mean providing enough line space. In the event of an online survey, having enough characters to type out complete thoughts is crucial.

6. Follow Up With Clarifying Questions

If respondents are struggling to answer an open-ended question, it can be helpful to provide them with a few follow-up questions that are more specific.

Following up can help them provide more detailed and accurate answers, which can be useful for gaining deeper insights into the topic.

7. Test Your Questions

Make sure to test your questions with a few people before publishing your survey.

When testing questions, it can help uncover any potential issues or misunderstandings and ensure that the questions are clear and concise.

It’s also important to note that it’s ok to adjust and refine your survey questions as needed.

8. Provide Context

Open-ended questions can be difficult to answer if respondents don’t understand the context of the topic.

To ensure they can provide accurate answers, it’s important to provide a brief explanation or description of the question before asking it.

Context will help give them enough information to form an opinion and provide an insightful response.

9. Allow for Multiple Answers

In the case of close-ended questions where you need to capture details and feedback from your respondents, it can be helpful to allow them to provide multiple answers.

Multiple choices will help ensure that you receive the most accurate data possible and that you don’t miss out on any important insights or opinions.

For example, when collecting demographic information, such as race, allow for participants to select all that apply.

10. Use Appropriate Response Formats

When collecting data from your respondents, it’s important to use the appropriate response format for each question.

For example, if you are asking a yes/no question, then don’t allow them to provide an essay-style answer.

Accurate response formats will help make sure that the responses you receive are accurate and that they align with the type of data you are looking to collect.

11. Offer an “Other” Option

When collecting data from respondents, it’s important to offer an “other” option for any close-ended questions that allow multiple answers.

This will give participants the opportunity to provide an answer that isn’t included in the list, which can be useful for uncovering new insights.

Final Thoughts

In the end, closed-ended questions can be useful for gaining quantitative data while open-ended questions offer more flexibility and insight into respondents’ thoughts and feelings.

However, both types of questions have their drawbacks that need to be taken into consideration when conducting market research or surveys.

Ultimately, the type of question you choose should depend on your research goals and the desired outcome of your study.

By understanding how each type works and its strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to select the best option for gathering valuable information from your target audience.

Need to run surveys? Try our free online survey builder and start collecting insights today!


Q: What do open-ended questions start with?

Open-ended questions typically start with words like “why,” “how,” and “what” to encourage respondents to provide more detailed answers that offer greater insight into their thoughts and feelings.

Q: How long should open-ended questions be?

Open-ended questions should be concise and to the point. Long, complicated questions can overwhelm respondents and lead to lower response rates. Try to keep your open-ended questions as short and focused as possible.

Q: What should I avoid when writing close-ended questions?

When writing closed-ended questions, it’s important to avoid double-barreled questions and leading questions. Double-barreled questions ask two unrelated topics in a single question, while leading questions contain language that suggests a particular answer or opinion. Both types of questions can confuse respondents and lead to inaccurate results.