The goal of a survey is to obtain accurate insights that will help us make informed decisions. The use of open-ended questions can be both a help and a hindrance in this quest.
When constructing a survey, my advice is to use open-ended questions sparingly. Used too often and your respondents will be heading for the off ramp. But if you avoid using them you are missing out on a source of great insights.
Here are two tips when it comes to the wise use of open-ended questions
1. Save your open-ended questions for the later stages of your questionnaire. This way respondents have already committed to the process and are more amenable to taking the time required to fill out your open-ended questions.
2. I tend to attach most of my open-ended questions to a close-ended rating question. For example, if you’re asking a net promoter question along the lines of…”How likely are you to recommend membership in your association to a colleague or a friend” Extremely likely = 10 to Not likely at all = 0, it is very helpful to follow up with the question, “Why do you say that”. At the analysis stage you can look at the responses of your “promoters” (those who rated you as a 9 or 10), your “detractors” those who rated you as a 0 to 6) and your “passives” (those who gave you a rating of 7 or 8).
If used wisely, open-ended questions can be a source of tremendous member insight. Keep in mind however, that in your analysis you will be faced with many verbatim comments. Putting these comments into useful groupings can be quite challenging. This is a topic for an upcoming blog.
If you’re looking for advice on questionnaire design download a copy of our 7 Tips for Creating Successful Online Surveys.