Open-ended vs. Close-ended Questions in Web Questionnaires
Urša Reja, Katja Lozar Manfreda, Valentina Hlebec, and Vasja Vehovar
Two quite different reasons for using open-ended as opposed to close-ended questions can be distinguished. One is to discover the responses that individuals give spontaneously; the other is to avoid the bias that may result from suggesting responses to individuals. However, open-ended questions also have disadvantages in comparison to close-ended, such as the need for extensive coding and larger item non-response. While this issue has already been well researched for traditional survey questionnaires, not much research has been devoted to it in recently used Web questionnaires. We therefore examine the differences between the open-ended and the close-ended question form in Web questionnaires by means of experiments within the large-scale RIS 2001 Web survey.
The question “What is the most important, critical problem the Internet is facing today?” was asked in an open-ended and two close-ended question forms in a split-ballot experiment. The results show that there were differences between question forms in univariate distributions, though no significant differences were found in the ranking of values. Close-ended questions in general yield higher percentages than open-ended question for answers that are identical in both question forms. It seems that respondents restricted themselves with apparent ease to the alternatives offered on the close-ended forms, whereas on the open-ended question they produced a much more diverse set of answers. In addition, our results suggest that open-ended questions produce more missing data than close-ended. Moreover, there were more inadequate answers for open-ended question. This suggests that open-ended questions should be more explicit in their wording (at least for Web surveys, as a self administered mode of data collection) than close-ended questions, which are more specified with given response alternatives.