What are the differences between closed-ended questions and open-ended questions?

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The main difference between a closed-ended question and an open-ended question is the type of response that can be given. With a closed-ended question there are a limited number of choices to choose from when answering, but with an open-ended question the respondent can answer in their own words allowing for a wide variety of answers.

Another difference between a closed-ended question and an open-ended question is the difficulty level of statistical analysis. The closed-ended question allows researchers to analyze the data at a much faster rate than the open-ended question, because there is a limited number of responses. However, the open-ended question allows for a variety of responses, so it takes a large amount of time to categorize all these responses into workable data.

Example / Application

Example: Closed-ended: Multiple choice question: How many hours are there is a day?

  A. 18
  B. 20
  C. 15
  D. 24

Application: For this example of a multiple choice question, it is clear to see that there are a fixed number of ways in which one can answer this question. The respondent can only answer by circling either A., B., C., or D.

Example: Open-ended question: Describe what you did to deal with harassment at school?

Application: This question allows the respondent to answer the question in their own words. One participant may say that they went to the school counselor, while another participant may say that they did not report the sexual harassment. As a result, the open-ended question would provide researchers with loads of information.

The information can also be converted later to quantitative data through content coding the entries. For example, in the hypothetical study about dealing with harassment, the open-ended data could be coded for type of response, severity of response, or emotional reaction. Each time the content coder converts the qualitative data to numbers (quantitative data) which allows more precise comparison across participants.


Evans, A. N. & Rooney, B. F. (2008). Methods in Psychological Research: Sage Publications, Inc.

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