Open-Ended Questions: The Comeback Kid

Posted by: Joan Cassidy
  • August 10, 2014
  • 1

blogsize comeback kid open ended responses consumer market researchAs researchers look for new methods to derive insights about consumers’ emotions and less-conscious thoughts and motivations, we should take a fresh look at the open end. Over the last decade, researchers have walked away from the time-intensive and relatively costly open-ended question. We think it’s time for open-ended questions to make a comeback and get back to work.

Whether we want to explore unmet needs or emotional responses to environments and situations, open ends allow us to tap into consumers’ priorities, intentions, and thoughts.

Here are 3 ways you can capture more value from the open-ended question:

  1. Gain richer responses and greater insight by framing open-ended questions in a way that elicits detailed narratives. Abe Rutchick, PhD, senior scientist with LRW’s Pragmatic Brain Science Institute® shares this, “The words we use reflect what we are paying attention to, what we are thinking about, how we feel, and how we perceive our environment.  It’s a lost opportunity to not let respondents use their own words to talk about the feelings and beliefs they have as a result of their experiences with products and brands.”
  1. Augment traditional coding with tools that enable the exploration of both explicit and implicit meaning in language.  We can gain a more holistic view of consumers’ responses to brands, products and experiences by thoroughly analyzing their language. A deep analysis of word usage – including both content and structure – can increase our understanding of consumer priorities, intentions and thoughts. Further insights can be extracted from emotional tone and emotional associations, as well.
  1. Enrich your learning by gathering spoken responses to open-ended questions.  “People have been speaking to each other, telling stories, since the dawn of humanity; we have been writing for just a few thousand years. Simply put, we are better talkers than writers. Therefore, it’s logical that spoken open ends tend to be less filtered, longer, and more expressive than written responses, which can then provide us deeper understanding,” according to Rutchick.

Everyone loves a comeback story!  With fresh approaches and brain-science based tools, open ends can be the comeback kid.


1 Comment
  • Hilary DeCamp
    August 12, 2014
    It's great that these innovative tools have added new value to an ages-old method. While self-administered online surveys, particularly those taken on smartphones, struggle to obtain useful insight from traditional open-ends (e.g.,, without probing by an interviewer,, does "hot" mean spicy or scalding?), linguistic coding squeezes more information out of the same words. And open-ends add another arrow to the crucial quality control quiver.

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