Advantages of Closed Questions over Open Questions in E-mail Surveys

Various aspects influence the approach used to collect data in surveys. Surveys use interviews or questionnaires for data collection. The interviews and questionnaires can have either open-ended or closed questions. Closed questions limit the responses that respondents can make to options listed. Open questions allow the respondents to state their opinions or explanations about the question asked without providing them with answers to choose from.This essay identifies the reason for choosing closed questions in conducting email surveys.

The preference of closed questions in conducting surveys result from advantages such as efficiency in data collection, coding and analysis. With regard to data collection, closed questions are appropriate when the researcher is seeking answers to a question with a finite set of responses that are clear-cut. For such questions, the use of closed questions avoids instances where respondents provide irrelevant data that may not be useful for analysis of the concept under assessment (Schuman & Presser, 1979). Additionally, closed questions provide the researcher with a high level of control since they oblige customers to answer particular questions. Through such a role, closed questions help to reduce the cases of missing data that may reduce the applicable sample size for analysis thus reducing the extent to which the findings may be generalized (Griffith, Cook, Guyatt & Charles, 1999). Further, closed questions could increase the response rates since they involve relatively lower effort on the part of the respondent as compared to the open-end questions (Kelley, Clark, Brown & Sitzia, 2003). Due to the low effort required on the part of the respondents, closed questions would provide a better alternative for respondents who have time limitations.

Closed questions are also easier to code and their analysis is easier compared to open questions (Schuman & Presser, 1979; Kelley, et al., 2003). For instance, in closed questions, the researcher provides a list of possible responses thus reducing the level of ambiguity in the responses provided (Schuman & Presser, 1979). When obtaining customer attitudes such as their satisfaction level with a particular product, a ranked-scale that evaluates satisfaction from the lowest to the highest level enables quantification of such attitudes. Such quantification facilitates analysis of the responses. Additionally, closed questions avoid ambiguity associated with the wording provided by the respondents thus reducing the challenges the researcher would encounter in interpreting the responses. By formulating the closed questions to be more specific, the researcher can enhance the comparability of the meanings derived from the responses (Vinten, 1995). Such advantages compelled on the choice of closed questions for the e-mail survey conducted.

Irrespective of the advantages noted, closed questions have some limitations. Using closed questions when possible answers are not well known and not clear-cut could lead to the loss of important information (Schuman & Presser, 1979). Closed questions assume that the researcher is conversant with the concept under examination and can build relevant responses. When such is not the case, poorly designed questions that mislead and frustrate the respondents could result. To reduce the extent of this disadvantage in the e-mail survey, the closed-questions were based on prior research that enhanced the information included in the alternatives provided.

The choice of closed questions for use in e-mail survey followed its advantages over the open questions and availability of ways to reduce the limitations of using closed questions. Such reasons included:

  • Enhanced data-collection process: closed questions enhance data collection since they require less effort on the part of the respondent and the researcher; they also obligate respondents to answer specific questions thus reducing the amount of missing data.
  • Enhanced coding and analysis: closed questions allow the researcher to pre-code responses and assign values to the responses that help in quantifying the results from the responses for further statistical analyses.
  • Reduced ambiguity in responses: closed questions offer alternatives that avoid ambiguity introduced by aspects such as respondents’ choice of words.
  • Availability of relevant research on the topic of study: prior studies provided a background for the preparation of the questionnaire thus avoiding a situation where the closed questions would fail to capture relevant information.


Griffith, L.E., Cook, D. J., Guyatt, G. H. & Charles, C. A. (1999). Comparison of open and closed questionnaire formats in obtaining demographic information from Canadian general internists. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 52(10), 997-1005, doi:10.1016/S0895-4356(99)00106-7

Kelley, K., Clark, B., Brown, V. & Sitzia, J. (2003). Methodology matters: Good practice in the conduct and reporting of survey research. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 15(3), 261-266. doi:10.1093/intqhc/mzg031

Schuman, H. & Presser, S. (1979). The open and closed question. American Sociological Review, 44(October), 692-712.

Vinten, G. (1995). Open versus closed questions – an open issue? Management Decision, 33(4), 27-31. Doi:10.1108/00251749510084653

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