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What Is a Closed-Ended Question?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A closed-ended question is one that has only a simple, short answer that is usually either "yes" or "no," though there can be more "open" types. The strictest definition is typically a question that has only one answer as either a "true" or "false" condition, such as "Did you like that movie?" or "Is today Monday?" A more "open" form of closed-ended question still only has a single, short answer, but one that is not restricted to just "yes" and "no," such as "How old are you?" or "What day is it?" These are in contrast to true open-ended questions that allow for a wide range of lengthy answers such as "How are you today?" or "What did you think of that movie?"

There are certain advantages and drawbacks to using a closed-ended question. One of the major strengths of these types of questions is that they allow the asker to retain power in the process, since the answer should be brief. They can be used quite effectively to determine very simple types of information and to make data quantitative, or numerical. For example, someone polling about a film might ask "Did you like the movie?" with only "yes" and "no" as answers, allowing a simple analysis comparing the number of "yes" and "no" responses.

One of the major downsides to asking a closed-ended question, however, is that it eliminates a great deal of possible answers, since only one remains viable. For example, in the previous instance, someone may have liked the movie but thought the title was flawed or misleading. Without any ability to provide this type of information, the use of a closed-ended question only determined someone's enjoyment of the film, not if the title would have lead them to see it in the first place. During an interview, this type of question is useful early on, but can prevent a great deal of discovery from occurring in the long run.

Use of an open-ended question helps alleviate many of these weaknesses, though there are certain drawbacks to them as well. Unlike a closed-ended question, open ones have many possible answers and this provides a questioner with much more depth from a response. The information gained from them can be hard to quantify or easily use as part of a numerical study. It is often preferable to have both open- and closed-ended question options as part of a survey or questionnaire; this provides opportunities for both types to be used effectively, allowing each one to diminish the weaknesses of the other.

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Discussion Comments

By sunnySkys — On Jul 24, 2012

I can see why a questionnaire might include both closed-ended and open-ended questions. As the article points out, closed-ended questions don't give the person answering a lot of room to elaborate, so you might lose out on some information.

However, obviously you don't want a lengthy answer for every question. Some questions really do just need a yes or no answer!

By strawCake — On Jul 23, 2012

@Ted41 - Ah, sales. I learned this technique when I was in sales, and I have to say it is fairly effective. I definitely associate closed-ended questions with sales myself.

Of course, I feel like I also see people use closed-ended questions in court scenes in television shows. Sometimes in the court scenes, witnesses are asked yes or no questions, and not given the chance to elaborate. I guess so there are no surprises?

By Ted41 — On Jul 22, 2012

Asking closed ended questions can actually be very manipulative, because you're not really giving the other person an option to expand on their answer. So, they can be really, really useful in sales.

There's a sales technique that involves priming your target to say yes to the sale by asking them "yes" questions, which are questions to which they're guaranteed to say yes. The idea is that if you get them saying yes, they'll be more likely to say yes to your sale. Some examples of these kinds of questions are, "It's a nice day, isn't it?" or "You deserve a nice car like this, don't you?"

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