The Disadvantages of Open Ended Questions

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High school and college teachers often incorporate open-ended questions into their classroom discussions. Students often include open-ended questions in their classroom presentations and on assignments that require them to survey or interview others. Hiring managers typically use them in job interviews. However, these types of questions have drawbacks. It's difficult to analyze and quantify the information in the responses, and inconclusive or subjective answers aren't easy to interpret.

Tough to Analyze

  • Answers to open-ended questions are difficult to analyze because responses are difficult to quantify. For example, as a teacher, you might ask high school students why they think states should or shouldn't legalize marijuana. You'll likely get a variety of responses that you can't tally up with strict "yes" or "no" votes. As a result, it's difficult to draw accurate conclusions. You can only make inferences and consolidate answers into broad categories. In this example, categories might include overdose possibilities, black market sales, legal ramifications, federal tax issues, moral dilemmas and health concerns.

Difficult to Make Comparisons

  • Without concrete data, you can't make sharply defined comparisons between responses, according to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. In the marijuana example, you can't assume that students care more about health risks than legal concerns, as they weren't given a way to rank their answers. You also can't verify whether students think the federal government, rather than state governments, should regulate marijuana usage. Answers to open-ended questions offer insight, but they don't provide a way to reliably compare data or perform content analyses, according to Duke University's Initiative on Survey Methodology.

Time-Consuming Process

  • Open-ended questions take longer to answer than those with defined parameters. For example, as part of a psychology presentation, you might ask your classmates to describe their favorite memory from childhood. It will likely take them several seconds -- maybe minutes -- to think of their favorite memory. Plus, some students may want to explain their memories in great detail, eating up your precious time. If you ask a close-ended question, such as "Do any of you remember when you first learned to ride a bike?" or "How many of you remember your favorite family vacation?" you'll get a fast answer with a show of hands.

Vague Answers

  • Open-ended questions allow responders to answer with vague details and limited information if they don't want to provide complete answers. For example, in a job interview, an applicant might avoid in-depth answers about work-related weaknesses by saying, "I've improved any weak areas" or "My weakness is that I work too hard." In that case, a close-ended question -- like "On a scale of 1 to 10, how effective are your decision-making skills, and why would you give yourself that rating?" -- is better at ferreting out details. Open-ended questions give responders a way out if they don't want to volunteer information.

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