Survey questions can be broadly divided into two categories: open-ended and closed-ended questions. Before designing a survey, it’s important to understand the differences between the two. Asking the right questions and picking the right format will lead to more informative and accurate responses.

What are open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions are those that allow users to respond in their own words. Rather than prompting customers to select from a list of responses, an open-ended question gives customers the chance to respond in an original and unique way.

What are closed-ended questions?

Closed-ended questions have a list of set responses. Respondents are asked to select from either a multiple-choice answer, a numeric scale, or a simple Yes/No. There is no opportunity to clarify or elaborate on their answer.

Common examples

Open-ended questions  Closed-ended questions
What do you like about this product?  Would you recommend this product? Yes/No
How can this product be improved?  On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate this product?
Why did you choose this product? How often do you use this product (daily, weekly, monthly, annually)?

Advantages and Disadvantages

Both open-ended and closed-ended questions come with advantages and disadvantages.

Open-ended questions grant a lot of freedom to the respondent. They can construct their own responses and elaborate where they feel fit. This can lead to valuable and insightful feedback. On the other hand, the responses can also be difficult to interpret and analyze. Closed-ended responses are far more limited, but they are extremely consistent. This makes for easy analysis and interpretation. However, the information gained from each answer is quite restrictive.

Analyzing open-ended and closed-ended questions

The analysis methods for closed-ended questions are quite conventional. Customer Satisfaction is usually measured using a scale of 0-10, and a simple mean or median is a perfectly adequate way to compute the score. A Top 2 Box score, which calculates the share of respondents who gave the top two responses, is another method which is commonly used. More advanced statistical techniques like regression modeling and cluster analysis can be used to identify drivers and segments based on closed-ended question responses.

Analyzing open-ended responses usually requires more human input. Sentiment analysis algorithms can measure the tone of a response, and topic modeling techniques can identify commonly used keywords and phrases. However, when analyzing open-ended responses, algorithms and statistical techniques cannot replace human judgment.

Tutorial: Sentiment Analysis in Displayr

Laddering questions

Should you use open-ended or closed-ended questions in your customer feedback survey?

The answer is both. Using a combination of open-ended and closed-ended questions is the best way to structure a survey. A survey can begin with a closed-ended question, like “On a scale of 0-10, how difficult did you find this process?”, and then follow-up with an open-ended question, like “What did you find difficult about this process?”

This method is called “laddering, ” where you begin with a broad question and drill down into the specifics. Using both open-ended and closed-ended questions gives you the best of both worlds. You have closed responses that are easy to quantify, and open responses that are far more detailed.

Now you know how to ask open-ended and closed-ended questions. Here's what else to ask in a customer satisfaction survey.