Difference in Open-Ended & Closed-Ended Questions


When choosing which type of question to ask, closed-ended or open-ended, think about the types of answers you want to receive. Also think about the goals of the questions you are asking. A close-ended question requires a simple fact-based response but leaves no room for the responder to elaborate or explain. An open-ended question, however, requires more context, explanation and insight from the responder. People often choose to use a few of both types of questions in order to utilize the benefits of each type.

Intended Answer

  • When an interviewer asks a close-ended question, she is looking for a simple one-word or phrase response, often simply "yes" or "no." Other examples include questions such as, "What year were you born?" or "How many years of experience do you have?" But when an interviewer asks a close-ended question, she is looking for a longer answer that provides insights into how you think and work. Open-ended questions permit time for the responder to give opinion and emotion. This can help an interviewer assess the personality, values or work ethic of the responder. One example might be, "Please tell me about a past conflict you had with a colleague and what you did to resolve it."

Time Required to Answer

  • The time required to answer an open-ended question is much longer than the time required to answer a closed-ended question. Responders who are asked closed-ended questions can usually answer the question very quickly with a simple yes or no. This type of question, then, is good if you are conducting surveys that need answers as quickly as possible. Open-ended questions take more time to answer. They often require the responder to tell a story or share an opinion, which requires a lot more time than simply saying yes or no.

Ease of Analysis

  • It is often very easy to analyze closed-ended questions and for this reason they are often chosen for surveys and research. Analyzing an open-ended question requires a lot more effort. You have to really think about the meaning of the person's story or opinion and then come to a conclusion about that person based on your analysis. For scientific research, these open-ended question responses simply are not easily analyzed enough.

Control of Conversation

  • For interviewers who are looking to maintain complete control over the direction of the conversation, an open-ended question is not the way to go. People who are answering open-ended questions may often cause the conversation to stray from the interviewer's original destination because their answer was unexpected. If an interviewer asks a closed-ended question and receives a short yes or no response, he can move on with the conversation as he had planned, without having to worry about whether his next question will flow with the answer they just received.

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