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Why open questions add value to your survey

Quantitative and qualitative research methods both have advantages and can each be used effectively with different research objectives in mind. Here at Research by Design, we use a mix of both techniques depending on what we deem the most effective way of fulfilling the key requirements for the project. We take a similar approach when designing our surveys, using a combination of open-ended and closed questions in order to gather the data we need to reach an actionable, insightful set of results. Different objectives require questions crafted in a wide-range of ways to provoke the most valuable responses, resulting in a bespoke survey design tailored to the specific needs of the organisation. Whilst some people prefer to steer clear of using open-ended questions in their surveys, they can be important to add a great deal of value and insight to your results.

Why are open-ended questions so valuable?

Open-ended responses allow respondents to express themselves freely and gives them the sense that they are being listened to. Open-ended questions also elicit more detailed, contextual responses around the subject matter that allow the researcher to gain a better understanding of the beliefs and attitudes held by the respondent. Not only is this beneficial for the project, but any changes made by the organisation off the back of the research that reflect the views they have raised make the respondent feel much more valued. Without open-ended questions, responses may end up very limited and you may miss out on the real essence of what an individual is trying to say or how they’re truly feeling. You can try to offer as many (closed) response options as you want, but you will either end up with a way too lengthy list that instantly puts people off, or simply still not quite capture a response they feel is accurate.

Whilst closed questions are also useful to include in a survey and are intended to cover every feasible response, they don’t provide a unique insight when questions require a more personal view. You can’t learn something that you weren’t already somewhat expecting to see. If you haven’t considered it to be a response, you won’t have a response option available and if there’s no choice for respondents to answer in their own words then you may miss out on that golden nugget of information for the organisation.

We all know the feeling of that frustration when we can’t voice our opinions. Participants will appreciate the freedom of being able to share their views without feeling like they are being led or restricted by only pre-set answers.

So, what are the challenges?

As with any method, and most things in life, there are always going to be some disadvantages. One of these is that open-ended responses are more time consuming, in more ways than one.

Firstly, it will make the survey a lot lengthier if participants are required to manually input their answers. However, this can be resolved with a mixture of open and closed questions or by using ‘other’ boxes at the end of questions to give respondents the choice of expanding on their answers. In addition, open-ended responses are much more time consuming in terms of analysis. Although reading each response will vastly eat into your reporting time, it will provide you with the nitty-gritty details and an extremely insightful understanding of your results on how participants really feel about the organisation. A good way to make this process a little easier is by categorising the answers into different themes as you go through, this provides you with more manageable chunks to work with when delving into the analysis.

Another thing to consider is where you want to position open questions in your survey. It is probably not ideal to throw a load in right at the start and bombard participants as this will most likely scare them off by thinking it is going to take a lot more time and effort than may be true. Easing them in with a few simple questions is advised before jumping into the more juicy, thought-provoking questions you want them to let loose on.

Whilst open-ended responses can lengthen your survey and take longer to analyse,they do offer many advantages when trying to gain deeper insights in your research. To find out how Research by Design can help you in effectively gaining the insights required to fit the needs of your organisation, contact us today for an informal chat.

This entry was posted in Surveys, tagged Surveys, Online surveys and posted on February 19, 2019


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