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Ask Like a Pro: Your Guide to Mastering Open-Ended Questions

Kate Williams

11 March 2024

6 min read

Are you tired of getting one-word answers? We’ve all been there. The awkward silences that follow? They are also common in surveys! Crafting open ended questions that spark a conversation is a skill that’s worth learning – and one that’s also helpful in real life.

While the power of open-ended questions is undeniable, crafting them effectively can feel daunting. That’s because they require more thought and effort than their closed-ended counterparts.  In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about open-ended survey questions.

What Are Open Ended Questions?

Open questions, also referred to as unstructured questions, typically begin with “What?”, “How?”, “Where?”or “Why?”.

They don’t provide predefined answer options, allowing respondents to freely express their thoughts. Respondents are presented with a text box to write their responses, enabling detailed feedback.

For example, “How do I get to Middle Earth?”” or “What’s in your handbag?”

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

Customer service

In a customer satisfaction survey, open ended questions can help you truly understand an experience from the customer’s perspective. With the right phrasing, you can tap into the sentiment behind each experience, whether that’s delight, confusion or frustration.

Here are some foolproof questions for customer service teams:

1. What did you like the most about our product/service?

2. Would you use our product/service again?

3. Is there anything else you’d like to share?


In an employee feedback survey, open questions highlight the “human” aspect of Human Resources. They can provide qualitative data and rich narratives, allowing you to go beyond numbers and understand the emotional aspects of employee satisfaction. You can use anonymous survey questions to encourage honest feedback.

1. What do you love/hate about working here?

2. What motivates you to give your best at work?

3. Can you describe the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced at work?


Open questions help you dig deep into prospects’ needs and pain points, so you can offer tailored solutions that hit the mark. By aligning your offerings with their goals, you show how your product or service can really make a difference. These questions also give you a peek into their decision-making process and who’s calling the shots, making your sales pitch smoother and building trust along the way.

1. Can you tell me more about your specific needs and challenges?

2. What goals are you looking to achieve with this product or service?

3. How does your decision-making process typically work when considering a purchase like this?


Open-ended questions allow sales associates to understand customer preferences through an organic conversation, rather a script. In a retail survey, they can unveil motivations for visiting, whether it’s a specific need or browsing. By understanding customers’ intended use, staff can upsell complementary items and enhance the overall shopping experience.

1. What brought you into our store today?

2. How do you plan to use this product?

3. Have you had trouble finding something specific lately?

Bonus: 10 great open ended questions for conversation

Looking for a good ice-breaker? Here you go!

  1. “So, what’s your story? Tell me a bit about yourself.”
  2. “Looking ahead, what goals do you have for the next 5 years?”
  3. “How do you personally define success in your life?”
  4. “Outside of work, what are your favorite ways to spend your time?”
  5. “Can you share something you’re particularly proud of or passionate about?”
  6. “Do you have a favorite movie that you love to talk about? What makes it special?”
  7. “If you could plan your ideal date, what would it look like?”
  8. “What motivates you in both your personal and professional life?”
  9. “How do you like to challenge and push yourself?”
  10. “What do you believe sets you apart and makes you a valuable addition to a team?”

Fun fact: According to the Nielsen Norman Group, a survey with many open-ended questions will usually have a lower completion rate than one with more closed questions. Why? The answer lies below.

Open-Ended Vs Close-Ended Questions

Open-Ended QuestionsClose-Ended Questions
Respondents provide their own answers in their own words, typically using a text box or blank space.Respondents choose from predefined answer options such as multiple-choice, rating scales or yes/no answers.
Require more thought and effort to answer, leading to lower form fills.Require less effort to answer, leading to higher completion rates.
Allow for detailed and nuanced responses.Offer limited response options.
Require more effort and time to analyze responses due to the variability in answers.Quicker analysis as responses can be directly converted into tables or graphs.
Ideal for exploratory research, gathering in-depth insights, and understanding complex issues.Well-suited for quantitative research, measuring responses in a standardized, comparable manner.

The same question can be phrased differently depending on the format you choose. For instance:

Open-ended: What would you do if you were President for a day?

Close-ended: You are President for a day. Would you focus on:

a) Implementing new policies
b) Improving international relations
c) Addressing domestic issues
d) Other (please specify)

Need more samples you can use for your own survey? Try our Random Question Generator and get dozens of free questions!

Pros and Cons of Using Open Ended Survey Questions

Encourages detailed and thoughtful answers, providing deeper insights.May attract overly detailed answers, which can be time-consuming to read.
Often reveals unexpected or unanticipated information.Challenging to categorize compared to closed-ended responses.
Enable unique perspectives and ideas to emerge.May lead to vague answers, making it challenging to extract meaningful insights.
Qualitative and descriptive, therefore providing richer data.May vary widely, making it difficult to compare and draw conclusions.
Provides a deeper understanding of viewpoints, needs, or preferences.May require more effort, leading to possible respondent fatigue or incomplete responses.
Enhances decision-making with nuanced information.Analysis can be time-consuming without the right survey software.
Provide rich qualitative data that can uncover new perspectives, trends, and themesEnsuring consistency in open-ended responses across surveys can be tough.
Respondents often feel more engaged and valued when given the opportunity to share their opinions openly.Respondents may feel overwhelmed or hesitant to provide lengthy responses, leading to incomplete or superficial answers.

How to Ask Open-Ended Questions

Here’s a step-by-step guide.

1. Define Your Goals:

Before crafting questions, clearly define what you want to achieve with the survey. Knowing your goals will help you frame effective questions.

2. Craft Clear & Engaging Prompts:

Avoid generic prompts like “How was your experience?” Instead, use specific language that encourages detailed responses. For example, “What did you like most about our product?” or “Can you describe a situation where our service exceeded your expectations?”

3. Use Open-Ended Question Starters:

Use power words like “Why,” “How,” “Tell us about,” or “Describe a situation where…” These prompts encourage insightful answers.

4. Mind the Question Length:

While you want to encourage detailed responses, long questions can also be intimidating! Keep your prompts concise and focused on a single aspect of the experience.

5. Avoid Leading Language:

Phrase your questions neutrally to avoid swaying people towards a specific answer. For example, instead of “Did you find our staff helpful?” ask “Can you tell us about your interaction with our staff?”

6. Offer Response Options (Optional):

In some cases, providing a few open-ended response options can be helpful. This can nudge respondents in the right direction without limiting their answers.

7. Test Your Questions:

Before launching your survey, conduct a pilot test with a small group. This allows you to see if your questions generate the type of responses you need.

How to Create an Open-Ended Questionnaire

  1. Go to Login > My Surveys. Click on New Survey.
  2. Click on ‘Add a question’. Select ‘Text’
  3. Enter the question text.
  4. Select the answer type. You can choose single line or multi-line.
  5. You can also enable voice transcription, sentiment analysis and response translation.

How to create open questions in a survey

How to Analyze Open-Ended Questions

  1. Go to Login > My Surveys. Select the survey you want to analyze.
  2. Click on Results. Go to the Reports section to view the auto-generated report.
  3. Scroll down to view the text analysis for open-ended questions.
  4. You can view the Word Cloud summary. as well as the list of responses.

Analyzing open ended questions with SurveySparrow


The most important benefit of open-ended questions is that they allow you to find more than you anticipate.

Susan Farrell, “Open-Ended vs Close Ended Questions in User Research”

When Should I Use Open Questions In My Survey?

Exploratory ResearchUse open questions to gather initial thoughts and ideas.
Complex or Unpredictable TopicsAllow respondents to express themselves freely.
Qualitative Data GatheringCollect opinions, personal stories, emotions, and perspectives.
Understanding Customer FeedbackLet customers articulate their concerns, suggestions or praise in their own words.
Diverse PerspectivesGather diverse viewpoints and encourage creativity.
Follow-up or ClarificationDelve deeper into specific survey responses or clarify ambiguous answers.
Testing HypothesesSupport or challenge your assumptions with qualitative data.
Brainstorming and Idea GenerationInvite respondents to share their thoughts, ideas or solutions.
Sensitive TopicsAllow respondents to express their feelings with empathy and without constraints.
In-Depth Interviews Kickstart discussions and allow interviewees to provide detailed responses.

Wrapping Up

Open-ended questions are like treasure chests in surveys. They uncover rich, qualitative insights that closed-ended ones might miss. However, remember to balance them with closed-ended questions for a well-rounded survey.

Be mindful, such questions can be time-consuming for both you and your respondents! So, use them strategically to keep your surveys or interviews engaging and insightful.

Kate Williams

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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