Community Assessment

Using Open-Ended and Closed-Ended Questions

a smiling family sits on the couch together

Designing questions that elicit useful answers is critical to conducting a quality assessment. A best practice is to design both open-and closed-ended questions in order to get a range of information.

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to provide more complex, thoughtful answers, often based on their own feelings or experiences. Such questions tend to obtain a range of opinions because they are less leading than closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions often begin with words such as "Why" and "How," or phrases such as "What do you think about…," "What has been your experience with…," or "Can you tell me about…." Open-ended questions allow respondents to tell you anything they feel is relevant, which may also mean you discover things that are new or unexpected.
  • Closed-ended questions provide respondents with a limited set of possible answers. Questions that can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no" are closed-ended questions, as are questions that provide a pre-determined checklist of items to be selected. "Did you use mental health services?" is an example of a closed-ended question. Another example is a question that asks respondents to rate a service: "On a scale of 1–5, how would you rate the educational program of Head Start?" Typically, closed-ended questions are easier for respondents to answer, and the data gathered is easier to compare and analyze statistically.

By using a combination of open- and closed-ended questions you will be able to obtain rich data and a range of valuable insights about eligible families, community resources, and your program. Relying on just one question format would not provide the same variety of in-depth information.