Open-Ended Questions: Why You Need Them and Examples

When I worked as a journalist, getting an interesting sound bite or a powerful quote from a source was a big challenge.

I would get through my list of questions with the source, but sometimes, I still didn’t get what I needed. So in the end, I would ask them an open-ended question:

“Is there anything else you think I should know?”

Often, asking that one question helped me get the most valuable responses. People would open up to me and tell me interesting things that they otherwise would not.

It cut through a lot of walls and helped me get at the truth. That’s the power of open-ended questions. If you use them effectively in your surveys, you’ll get immensely valuable responses that’ll help you move forward as a business.

When making a survey, the average person is anxious about asking open-ended questions, trying to avoid them so as to not ask too much of their respondents.

But open-ended survey questions shouldn’t be avoided. You just need to know when and how to ask them. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about open-ended survey questions.

What are Open Ended Questions?

Close Ended Questions

An advantage of close-ended questions is that they’re highly suited to analysis. If responses are picked from a set of options, it is much easier for surveyors to analyze the data and gain meaningful insights.

Open Ended Questions

They are relatively harder to analyze as data sets, but they help you capture subjective experience better. You might have not addressed some issues in your survey that might come up in open-ended questions. By allowing respondents to take them wherever they please, you’re opening up the field for responses.

Why Open Ended Questions are Useful in Surveys

Cons of Having Open Ended Survey Questions

Requires More Effort

People leave surveys incomplete when you ask them for too much effort. An open-ended question requires users to think for themselves and then articulate their thoughts. That’s far too much effort if your respondent only wants to spend a few seconds on your survey. That’s why this kind of question is often avoided in quick surveys.

Difficult To Analyze

Open-ended questions, by their very nature, are all about the subjective experience. You’re leaving space for customers or employees to express grievances that you didn’t already foresee. That’s why they are not exactly quantifiable since each one might look very different from the other.

Invites Vague Responses

When you ask an open-ended question, you always run the risk of getting vague responses. There’s no guarantee that anything respondents say is relevant to your business. When you’re looking for precise quantifiable responses, don’t ask an open-ended question.

How Open Ended Questions Can Be Powerful

Finding New Themes

It’s not a problem you anticipated, but it exists. You wouldn’t know to ask about such things, and that’s why you need an open-ended question. “What could we have done better?” and sooner or later, a customer will mention a problem or area of improvement you never thought about.

Don’t Make Them Mandatory

If you ever consider asking an open-ended question and making it mandatory, think about this: your respondents have nothing to lose by just closing that tab. If they find the survey tedious, you might lose out on their responses to the close-ended questions as well.

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

Open Ended Questions for Customer Satisfaction Surveys

“What else do you think we should know?”

“What could we have done better to improve your experience?”

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?”

Open Ended Questions for Employee Feedback Surveys

“What is the best/worst thing about working here?”

“What could [employee name] do better at the workplace?”

“Do you feel like you have enough growth opportunities?”

Wrapping Up

To get surveys that are well-balanced between close-ended and open-ended questions, check out SurveySparrow. Whether you’re conducting an internal communications survey or a 360-degree employee evaluation, we have templates with just the right number of open-ended questions. Because Surveysparrow’s surveys are also beautiful and interactive, whether on desktop or mobile, we manage to get 40% more responses.

The trick to getting the most out of these questions is to use them just at the right place. Don’t make them mandatory, and get rich insights from your respondents that make your survey exercise a success!

Originally published at on July 6, 2021.

SurveySparrow lets you turn surveys into conversations.