Close-ended questions: what are they and how to use it in your surveys

Learn what close-ended questions are, the advantages of using them, when to use them and the different types you can find in this article.

Close-ended questions are one of the most important resources when making online questionnaires with a high response rate. 

If the questions are thoroughly thought of and written, then there are higher chances that the respondents will understand and answer them, which will therefore increase their interest in finishing the questionnaire. Besides, the analysis will be easier as the results are easier to interpret. 

Would you like to learn more about the value of close-ended questions and how to write them effectively? Then, you are in the right place. Firstly, let us define their features. 

What is a close-ended question?

If you have paid close attention, you must have noticed that the question in the former paragraph is, precisely, a closed one. You may answer it affirmatively (“yes”) or negatively (“no”). If in doubt, we could also add “I don’t know” as a third option.

Closed questions can only be replied to with one answer, chosen among other predetermined options. Open-ended questions, conversely, invite the person responding to answer them freely. 

To better understand the differences, let us use a customer’s service survey at a bank as an example. This survey might include a close-ended question such as: “Could you solve the problem that made you attend our branch?” which must be answered with “yes” or “no”. An intermediate third option as “Partially” might be added for an exception. In any case, a possible follow-up question would be: “Could you explain the reason for your previous answer?”. This would be an example of an open question in which the respondent can expand on the answer, providing more information. 

The former example summarizes to a great extent what this article deals with. Closed questions must be answered by choosing among predetermined options, which generally allows less time to answer them than an open one. In the latter, the respondent faces the challenge of thinking and elaborating a paragraph, or at least a line. The analysis of close-ended questions implies that results will be tabulated, and with a chart, they can be easily interpreted. 

Examples of closed questions

Online surveys tend to use a great variety of close-ended questions. To begin with, closed questions include those that deal with age, gender, neighborhood and education level, among others. Let us pay a look at other common examples:

  • Do you know if any relatives or friends work at our company? (In a questionnaire for a job applicant)
  • Were you invited by any of the public speakers? (In a questionnaire for people who attend a congress or seminar)
  • Are you a celiac or have any dietary restrictions? (Dinners, For restaurants, airlines, or other companies where lunches or dinners are prepared)
  • Do you need a wheelchair? Do you have any disability or mobility difficulty? (For an event)
  • Would you like to receive further information on offers of our services? (For any occasion in which we aim at increasing our database of potential clients)
Types of close-ended questions

There are different types of closed questions. Apart from dichotomous questions, the rest are used in online surveys to invite the users to express their opinions, grades, or feelings. They seek to get involved in their answers and include more valuable information for the analysis. 

The following examples are the most common types of closed questions:

1. Dichotomous questions

These are the ones that can only be answered in two ways. The most common ones are “yes” or “no” and “true” or “false”. All the ones mentioned in the previous section are examples of dichotomous questions. 

2. Multiple choice questions

 These include various options. In this way, the respondents have the chance of adding nuances based on their choice. For instance, “How would you rate our service?”, where the options are:

  • Very good
  • Good
  • Average
  • Fair
  • Poor

Five options are more than enough. It is not convenient to add many options as the user might get confused. Besides, some surveys replace written answers with pictures which might be a useful alternative when the visual difference between the options is noticeable. 

3. Rankings

This type of question must be answered by organizing a series of pre-established options according to a certain guideline. For example, “Classify the different types of food, from most to least favorite.” 

  1. Chinese
  2. Indian
  3. Mediterranean
  4. Argentinian
  5. Mexican
  6. American

When elaborating this type of closed question, make sure to include everything that must be classified. Otherwise, the results will lack value. 

4. Scoring questions

This type of question, very easy to complete, consists of providing the respondents the chance of answering the question by rating it with a determined score. Numbers, stars, or any other symbol may be used.

The results of scoring questions are gaining more and more use in the digital environment as the scores are a way of measuring online reputation. They are very much used by digital platforms such as Uber, Rappi, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Mercado Libre, or Airbnb, among others. 

For example, a salesperson from Mercado Libre is evaluated by a buyer through an online survey consisting of closed-ended questions such as: “Do they provide a good service?” or “Do they ship products on time?” Based on the answers provided by the different buyers, the salesperson’s reputation is drafted and scored. The same happens between drivers and passengers from Uber, Cabify and other similar apps or between guests and hosts in Airbnb. Surveys with scoring questions are an essential resource for these platforms as the reputation encourages unknown users to relate to each other. 

5. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

These are like the previous ones and are very much used in several industries. They consist of formulating a question as: “How likely are you to recommend this product/service to a friend or relative?” The answer is presented on a scale from 0/1 to 10 in which the respondent must choose between 0 (not likely) and 10 (very likely).

Thus, those who answer 9 and 10 are labeled as promoters; 8 and 7 are neutrals; 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1 and 0 are detractors. The NPS is calculated based on the coefficient of the promoters minus the detractors. In another article in the blog, you can learn more information on this topic. 

In any case, when creating your own survey, you must understand which are the ones that better adapt to your objectives. The idea is to try different formats to get acquainted and learn when to use them. 

Learn the tips to formulate close-ended questions

To make sure closed questions accomplish their aim, they must be formulated in a clear and concrete way so that the respondents understand they must choose one of the given options. 

Do not beat about the bush with long introductions or endless statements. You must be straightforward, as shown in the previous examples. In this way, the user will easily comprehend them. Although it may seem redundant, remember to avoid biased questions

Let us look at two common mistakes. Suppose you believe your customer service runs smoothly, but you still want to ask your clients. Which of the following looks more appropriate?

  1. “Our customer service staff works non-stop to clear your doubts and solve any problems. How can we further improve our service?”
  2. “How would you evaluate the attention received?”

Sure! The second one. Questions as the first one hinder the user’s comprehension due to the length of the statement. They also take for granted something that might not be true for the person responding, or you incite them to answer untruthfully. In this case, we must bear in mind the fact that some people might have had a bad experience and therefore do not have a good image of our customer service. 

Close-ended questions make the user's tasks easier

Another advantage of closed questions is that they can be answered on any electronic device.  You simply press any of the options. This is especially valuable if we consider that more and more online surveys are answered on smartphones. To be even more precise, according to our clients’ database, nowadays more than 70% of surveys are opened on mobile devices.

Therefore, there are high chances that users only agree to answer a form or survey when they have some free time. They are not willing to interrupt a family dinner, a business meeting, or any other commitment to answer an online survey via email or in any other way. However, they would be willing to fill it as they queue and wait to get into a certain place, while they are in the waiting room in a doctor’s office, or whilst commuting.

Everyone has some time in between to do something. Nowadays, that “something” is a mobile device, which we carry with us wherever we go, at all times. So, on the occasions when the users are more likely to answer the questionnaire, they will do it on their smartphones where it is easier to mark predetermined options rather than typing. In conclusion, a survey with more close-ended questions is more likely to be filled in and finished than one with more open-ended questions

Closed questions or open questions: which is the best option?

Actually, one option is not definitely better than the other one. It would be ideal to incorporate both types of questions on your online survey. As seen in previous examples, the combination of open and closed questions is a useful resource when making online surveys as you can have a full vision of the client’s opinion. 

A closed question followed by an open one is a good way of doing some research on the reasons behind a “yes” or a “no”. Besides, it will also be useful to get access to a unique and personal response and to analyze the exact words people responding use to explain their point of view. When interpreting results, you might resort to resources such as word clouds.

Anyhow, we recommend not using up this resource. A questionnaire with plenty of open questions will be difficult to analyze. When creating your online survey, it is more important to focus on the way of using closed questions with options that are useful to meet the needs of all the people responding. Thus, you will avoid complications in the analysis. 

The value of close-ended questions

Even though the combination of open and closed questions is usual and advisable, there is a feature of the latter that is rather convenient for interviewers: the way results are analyzed. 
It is simple. You will be able to quantify and show tabulated results without any inconvenience. A survey platform automatically creates charts and other elements that will help you visualize the results clearly and, therefore, collect valuable data to improve your business. 
What cannot be measured and evaluated cannot be improved. Without devaluing open questions (which have a great value) and the means to analyze them, it is much easier and faster to interpret results from closed questions. 

Using closed questions as a filter

Closed questions are a very useful resource to make sure online surveys are answered by the users you are interested in. 
To make it work, you must add a filter question at the beginning of the questionnaire. For instance, if you want your online survey to be answered only by clients who have visited your hotel on the last three months, you might open the survey by asking: “When did you last stay at the hotel?” and offer the following options as answers:

  • Less than three months ago
  • More than three months ago

In this way, you will discard those who choose the second option using the logic jump function in which they are sent to the end page of the survey. 
Now that you have learnt the value of closed questions, it is time you used them on your next survey! Try the different types and collect important information for your business. 

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