Research is the bedrock of product development. At the core of research are good questions to ask your audience. However, sometimes it’s not that easy to determine which questions will yield the best responses from your respondents. The way a question is worded can heavily influence the answer you receive.
When creating a survey or conducting interviews, the type of questions you ask can limit how much you can discover. By creating high-quality questions, you may find responses that drive your product roadmap.
In this article, you’ll learn what open-ended questions are, how they differ from close-ended ones, and how to go about asking them.
Open-ended questions are queries that go beyond receiving a simple “yes” or “no” answer. They require respondents to expand on their answers. Open-ended questions are worded carefully to ensure respondents give long, unbiased answers. It’s ideal for product development since it can provide insights into users’ thinking patterns.
The main difference between the two types of questions comes down to how you word them. An open-ended question results in answers that are long and more detailed. Meanwhile, closed questions lead to answers that are two words or less.
Let’s take a look at an example. Say you want to know how someone’s weekend went. Here is an open-ended question and a closed question:
The open-ended question requires some detail to answer. On the other hand, the closed question can be satisfied with a vague or one-word answer.
Open-ended questions can be especially useful when conducting product research. This why you get more substantive answers from your focus groups. Here are a few examples of open-ended questions in product research:
Open-ended questions can provide insights into what is actually happening with your users. They also help to explain the reasoning behind the user’s decisions. The responses provide valuable insights that can help drive product decisions.
However, this isn’t to say you should never use closed-ended questions. They do have their purpose, especially if you are aware there are limited answers. For example, asking someone their age is a close-ended question and helps identify demographics.
The key is to know which queries are better asked in an open-ended way instead of a closed-ended question. Knowing the difference can help you understand why you have varying results in your research.
Let’s say that you want to discover your audience’s favorite ice cream flavor. You give them a multiple-choice survey and allow them to select one of three choices: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
You’ll find which of the three is more preferred among your audience, but you won’t discover other popular ice cream flavors like cookie dough or mint chocolate chip. Your audience wasn’t given the option to express other flavors as their favorite.
Instead, the survey could have an open-ended question like “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” or include an “other” option to gather additional and more accurate answers.
Asking open-ended questions provides a path for audiences to share their insights. Giving your audience a platform can provide valuable insights into your user research. You may find answers you weren’t expecting.
Some other benefits of using open-ended questions include:
Open-ended questions are best for situations requiring user feedback. For example, after they have used your product, they can provide commentary on how it did or didn’t work for them.
Open-ended questions need careful wording to ensure you get the most accurate response. One of the biggest difficulties is avoiding leading the participant. Leading questions suggest the participant should give a particular answer. Here’s an example of a leading question and an open-ended question:
The leading question gives the participant the chance to say “yes” or “no.” It also pressures them to say yes since saying no could be an awkward experience. The open-ended question is better since it doesn’t have any assumptions. It also provides the participant the chance to answer honestly.
Here are some other tips for asking open-ended questions:
Open-ended questions bring a host of benefits to user research, but there’s a fine line between helpful and problematic.
Analyzing responses to open-ended questions can take time, but the results are valuable for your product. Here is how to begin data analysis for open responses:
One of the difficulties of analyzing open-ended questions is that you could end up with hundreds of responses. It can make it much more difficult to categorize and analyze the answers.
You may want to consider using closed-ended questions for the bulk of your survey. Then use open-ended questions for users to expand on their answers. That way you can still have immediate data to back up your theories while waiting for the results of the open-ended responses.
Asking the right questions is crucial to receiving accurate responses. The interviewer needs to carefully prepare their questions to avoid biased answers. They also need to ensure respondents are comfortable enough to talk about their experience.
Another barrier is the ability to effectively analyze responses to open-ended questions. If you receive hundreds of responses, it can take some time to accurately categorize answers. However, this is an important part of transforming data into actionable insights.
Including open-ended questions as part of your product or audience research is key to finding valuable answers. Once surveys or interviews are completed, you could end up with a blueprint of what to do next to make your customers satisfied with your product.
Featured image source: IconScout
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