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How to Use Open-Ended Questions in Research

How to Use Open-Ended Questions in Research


Questions that are open-ended provide rich qualitative data. In essence, they provide the researcher with an opportunity to gain insight on all the opinions on a topic they are not familiar with. However, being qualitative in nature makes these types of questions lack the statistical significance needed for conclusive research. Nevertheless, open-ended questions are incredibly useful in several different ways:
1) Expert Interviews
Since questions that are open-ended ask for the critical thinking and uncut opinion of the respondent, they are perfect for gaining information from specialists in a field that the researcher is less qualified in. Example: If I wanted to learn the history of Ancient China (something I know very little about), I could create my survey for a selected group of historians whose focus is Ancient China. My survey would then be filled with broad open-ended questions that are designed to receive large amounts of content and provide the freedom for the expert to demonstrate their knowledge.
2) Small Population Studies
Open-ended questions can be useful for surveys that are targeting a small group of people because there is no need for complex statistical analysis and the qualitative nature of the questions will give you more valuable input from each respondent. The rule here is the group must be small enough for the surveyor to be able to read each unique response and reflect on the information provided. Example: A supervisor who is looking for performance feedback from his/her team of six employees. The supervisor would benefit more from questions that allow the respondents to freely answer rather than forcing them into closed-ended questions that will limit their responses.
3) Preliminary Research
Open-ended questions can reveal to the surveyor a variety of opinions and behaviors among the population that they never realized. It is therefore, incredibly useful to use open-ended questions to gain information for further quantitative research.
4) A Respondent Outlet
It is usually a good idea in any survey, no matter how large, to leave an open-ended comments question at the end. This is especially in the case of a survey asking the respondent to express himself freely regarding attitudes, opinions, or behaviors. Forcing respondents to answer closed-ended questions asks them to fit in your box of options and can leave them with extra information or concerns that they want to share with you. Providing respondents with the outlet of a comment box is showing them the respect they deserve for taking the time to fill out your survey.

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