Closed-ended survey questions do most of the heavy lifting in qualitative research, but to gain more insight into how consumers feel and add color to your research narrative, nothing beats the “qualitative pop” of open-ended questions.
To be effective, open-ended questions need to be written in a way that isn’t leading and that avoids short one-word answers (generally speaking). You want your respondents to open up so that you can capture the nuance of their answers.
We’ve compiled a list of the best open-ended survey questions. The right questions will open the door to insights on emotion and key themes that can inform new offerings or changes in your strategy. These are generally organized by research type and question objective.
Examples of Open-Ended Survey Questions
Questions about motivation are generally positive in nature. They should demonstrate what would motivate a respondent to choose a given product, service, or decision. Instead of asking specific questions about price points, copy options, or product features, you can leave the playing field wide open and find out what truly motivates your consumers to buy.
- When deciding to purchase (type of product), what factors do you consider?
- When you’re deciding what to purchase between two items, what attributes serve as tiebreakers?
- Why did you choose to buy from (brand name)?
- What makes you choose (brand name) over others?
- Describe the perfect (type of product)
Whether it’s a minor annoyance or something that keeps your potential customer up at night, identifying pain points can help you write more effective messaging and develop your product line tailored specifically to your target’s needs.
- What problem are you looking for (name of product or brand) to solve?
- If (product or brand name) could remove one obstacle, what would it be?
- Where do most (types of product) fall short?
- What changes to (name of product or service) could be made to improve your experience?
- How would you like (product or service) to help with streamlining your day?
Converting more people to your product or service also involves finding out why people didn’t choose you in the first place. Learning about common objections can help you counter them in your promotional and website materials.
- Why didn’t you choose (name of product or brand)?
- What made (competitor brand or product) a more attractive option compared to (your brand or product)?
On the flip side, you can also ask questions about what can convince someone to become a customer or commit to buying more.
- What would make you choose (competitor) over (your brand)?
- If we changed one thing about (brand or product) that would make it more tempting to purchase, what would it be?
- If we were to expand (product line), where would you like to see that go?
- If you could have an additional (product/service/feature) from us, what would it be?
Advertising & Branding
These questions can be used for evaluating how effective a recent brand campaign has been, how memorable your brand is, and how familiar you are to respondents compared to competitors. Going beyond choosing an ad variant they like best, your participants can tell you what they like about a certain ad, what sets it apart, or their perception of the brand personality or other attributes.
- What brands do you associate with (product category)?
- If you were to reach for (type of product), which brands would you expect to see on the shelves?
- Think about advertisements you’ve seen for (type of product) lately. What comes to mind? You can include the content of the ad, the brand name, or any other attributes you remember.
- What brands have you purchased (type of product) from?
- How would you compare our (brand/product) to competitors?
- What movies or TV shows have you heard about recently?
- When you think about (type of product), what is top of mind?
Creative / Copy Testing
- What do you remember from what you’ve just watched/read?
- If you had to describe the purpose of the ad to someone else, what would you say?
- What sets our messaging apart from the competition?
- What did you like about what you just watched/read?
- What did you dislike?
- Are there any actions you’d like to take after seeing this ad?
- What is the main message of this ad?
- How would you describe this brand’s personality?
- What celebrity endorsements do you think make sense for this brand?
- What television shows does someone who buys this brand watch?
- If you could describe the brand in one word, what word would you use?
- If you had to compare this brand to an animal, what animal would it be and why?
- If someone asked you about the brand, how would you describe it?
- How do you think other people perceive this brand?
Product feedback could take the form of either thoughts and feelings from current customers or feedback from product or concept testing, such as in-house user testing (IHUT), sensory labs, or focus groups.
- What do you like most about the product?
- How would you describe your experience with this product?
- What would you improve about the product if you could?
- What would make you use the product again?
- What do you think the most important feature of the product is?
- What are you looking for in a product like this?
Product / Concept Testing Feedback
- Between the products you’ve tried today, which would you like to see go into production and why?
- Are there any changes you’d like to see us make that haven’t been tested today?
- How do you see yourself using this new (product/feature)?
- What is your least favorite part of the new (product/feature) we shared with you today? Why?
- Why did you choose this option from this list of (products/features)?
- Have you seen this (product/feature) elsewhere, with other brands, or in other settings?
- What would you expect to pay for the following (product/feature)?
- When choosing your favorite (product/feature), what factored into your ultimate decision?
- How does this new (product/feature) compare to the previous version?
- What words would you associate with this new (product/feature)?
NPS, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Customer Experience Surveys
If you use Net Promoter Score (NPS) at your company the quintessential “How likely are you to recommend..?” question is generally followed by an open-ended question that asks for details. Even if you’re not using the NPS methodology, other forms of customer satisfaction feedback often include an open-ended question inviting feedback. Typical examples include:
- What is the main reason for the score you gave?
- Why did you provide that rating?
- Tell us about one thing we could do to make the (product/service) better
You might consider asking a specific follow-up question based on the rating, such as:
Detractors / Lower Scores
- What can we do to improve your experience?
- What was disappointing or lacking with our (product/service)?
Passives / Middle Scores
- What can we do to improve your experience?
- What are the benefits of (product/service)?
Promoters / High Scores
- Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
- What about our (product/service) do you value the most?
Customer experience feedback is a more general form of analysis that typically looks to understand how customers or users interact with your product or service and/or the process of obtaining your product or service. Questions that get after this include:
- Walk us through your experience with this (product/service) – What did your consideration process look like?
- What made you first consider our (product/service)?
- Did you evaluate other brands during the consideration stage?
- How did you ultimately decide to go with our (product/service)?
- How has your experience been with our (product/service)?
- If you had to do it all over, what would you change, if anything, about your experience with our (product/service)?
- When you need this type of (product/service) again, what is the likelihood that you will return to ours? Why?
Generating Emotional Reactions in Open-Ended Questions
While many of the previously listed questions may elicit emotion in the response, if understanding the emotional sentiment of the respondent is a priority you may consider variations on the following question:
- How would you feel if you were no longer able to use our (product/service)?
- How would you feel if we changed our product?
- How does using our (product/service) make you feel?
- How do you feel about (brand) after watching the ad?
- (In consumer testing) How does this new (product/feature) make you feel?
- What feelings does this brand evoke?
Check out the Essential Guide to Analyzing Open-Ended Questions
We hope this roundup of open-ended questions provides some inspiration for your next research project or survey. As you can probably tell, we’re passionate about open ends at Canvs and believe that open-ended questions can and should be a valuable source of “core insights” for insights and CX professionals (in addition to providing some sweet pull quotes for the report). Please check out our Essential Guide to Analysis of Open-Ended Questions for more on how open-ends add value across a range of research contexts.