Difference Between Open Ended and Close Ended Questions in Academic Research

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One of the methods you may find useful while conducting your research is the questionnaire method. This basically involves preparing a list of questions pertinent to your area of survey and administering it either manually or electronically to a select group of people or sample. The sample could be randomly or systematically chosen depending on your requirement.

Your questionnaire will consist of a certain number of questions related to your research. A close ended questionnaire would imply when your questions are to be answered in terms of given specific options. This could mean that a question in your questionnaire would have stated options among which the respondents will have to choose their answer. ‘Tick all that apply’ option can be present too. Alternatively, options might be couched in terms of scale, such as the Likert Scale. Close ended questionnaires can also include yes/no answers.

These kind of questions work when you wish to narrow down the response of your sample to very specific responses. It works in a situation where you are not concerned with extra information of context. You are simply looking for straight and specific answers. Therefore your questions also must be such that they can be answered in a close-ended manner. If you are posing a very controversial or debatable issue, your listed choices may not be enough for the participant to respond satisfactorily. Hence it is also important to couch the questions in a right manner. The aim of close-ended questionnaires is to gauge specific attitudes, responses and precise opinion. The advantage of close ended questionnaires is that the information received is relatively easy to collate, organize and interpret.

An open ended questionnaire is used when the researcher is posing very broad questions and because he or she is interested in the details, context and background. Yes or no answers will not suffice because they tell little about the background, motivations or reasoning. The difficulty with such a question is that respondents can go off-track and end up talking about everything other than the question. Since they are not constrained to limit their answers to a specific option, they might end up giving information which has no purpose or use for the researcher. Further, they may express themselves in a manner which is hard to understand. Meanings may not immediately be clear, there may be several ambiguities and responses may be, by and large unsatisfactory.

Further, responses might be too long or verbose, resulting in a waste of time for the researcher. However, if the scholar’s research project is such that it requires this kind of a detailing and elaboration, in this case, the open-ended technique is a good idea. However, the researcher might have difficulties in the gathering, collecting and in the interpretation of information.

The researcher should be very clear about the kind of questions he or she is posing. The nature of questions will determine whether close or open ended questions should be used. Further, the same question posed in an open-ended or close ended format could yield significantly different responses.