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The benefits of open-ended questions

An open-ended question is one which is phrased in such a manner as to encourage a meaningful answer using the subjects’ knowledge or feelings. They are rather objective in nature and provide an opportunity for a person to come up with an answer that is pertinent to him or her. Such questions implicitly ask for a response in the person's own words and is not limiting.

Advantages

Not limiting in nature
An open question does not provide a response option, but ask the respondent to answer in their own words. They draw out the respondents’ attitude and intention as opposed to closed questions. Such questions allow the respondent to be honest and provide as much information as they want to. They are not restrictive or limiting in nature. It provides respondents with an opportunity to actually reflect on their own feelings. If they have an opinion, it gives them the freedom to voice it independently. Facilitate cooperation and understanding Such questions also allow them to counter such a question with another, asking for clarification if they are not clear on the meaning. In fact, open-ended questions facilitate enhanced levels of cooperation and understanding. Naturally, the end result provides for a positive learning and sharing experience as it implies respect and interest in others. It also shows an open mind that is willing to invest time in others. Extra information Respondents’ answers provide extra information, particularly in surveys. As such, these answers can be used at a later stage by researchers who may need to use the contextual information about the survey target for secondary analysis. Cutting down error Open-ended questions also cut down on error from the respondents as they are not likely to forget their answers as opposed to filling up a survey with a mere ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It encourages respondents to think before answering and also sharpens their verbal and communication skills.

When should they be used?

Such questions build a closer relationship between the person asking the question and the respondent and can be used as a tool wherever the situations warrants or requires additional information from the respondent. Examples of these include the journalism field, legal
cross-questioning, in a relationship, in an interview, drawing out children, among others.

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